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People v. Abdullah

Supreme Court of Illinois

November 21, 2019

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,
v.
MUHAMMAD S. ABDULLAH, Appellant.

          JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Burke and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Theis, and Neville concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KILBRIDE, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 This appeal is brought by Muhammad S. Abdullah[1] from the appellate court judgment affirming the order of the circuit court of Lake County denying his petition for relief from judgment filed pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2014)). 2018 IL App (2d) 150840. We allowed Abdullah's petition for leave to appeal under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315(a) (eff. Apr. 1, 2018). We reverse and remand with directions.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In 2004, Abdullah was charged by indictment with, among other crimes, first degree murder in the shooting death of Marco Wilson and attempted first degree murder in the nonfatal shooting of Luis Melendez on March 15, 2004. The indictment did not charge firearm enhancements for any offense.[2] On June 9, 2005, following a jury trial, Abdullah was convicted of the first degree murder of Wilson and the attempted first degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm of Melendez. On August 17, 2005, the trial court sentenced Abdullah to concurrent prison terms of 40 years for first degree murder and 20 years for attempted first degree murder.

         ¶ 4 On September 2, 2005, the State filed a "Motion to Impose Mandatory Minimum and Mandatory Consecutive Sentence." The State argued that consecutive sentences were mandatory under section 5-8-4(a)(i) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(a)(i) (West 2004)) when "one of the offenses for which the defendant was convicted was first degree murder or a Class X or Class 1 felony and the defendant inflicted severe bodily injury." Further, the State sought a prison term of at least 45 years on the first degree murder conviction, representing the 20-year minimum prison term for that offense plus an additional 25-year firearm enhancement (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(d)(iii) (West 2004)) because, in committing the offense, Abdullah personally discharged a firearm, causing Wilson's death.

         ¶ 5 On September 8, 2005, Abdullah filed a notice of appeal. The State then moved to dismiss the notice of appeal as untimely. The State argued that the original sentences imposed on August 17, 2005, were invalid. According to the State, Abdullah could not bring an appeal until valid sentences were imposed. On October 13, 2005, the trial court struck Abdullah's notice of appeal.

         ¶ 6 The trial court resentenced Abdullah on November 17, 2005, imposing consecutive prison terms of 50 years for first degree murder and 31 years for attempted first degree murder, including a 25-year firearm enhancement for both offenses.[3] Abdullah moved for reconsideration and argued, among other things, that once his notice of appeal was filed, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to modify and increase his sentences. The trial court rejected Abdullah's argument. On January 20, 2006, on Abdullah's motion to reconsider the new sentence, the trial court reduced the prison term for attempted first degree murder to 26 years, representing the 6-year minimum prison term for that offense plus an additional 20-year firearm enhancement (720 ILCS 5/8-4(c)(1)(C) (West 2004)), consecutive to the 50-year sentence for first degree murder, for an aggregate term of 76 years of imprisonment.

         ¶ 7 Abdullah then refiled his notice of appeal. On direct appeal, the appellate court affirmed the convictions and sentences. People v. Muhammad, [4] No. 2-06-0086 (2008) (unpublished order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 23). The trial court subsequently summarily dismissed Abdullah's petition filed under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-2.1(a)(2) (West 2008)).

         ¶ 8 On January 27, 2014, Abdullah filed the pro se petition under section 2-1401 (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2014)) that is the subject of this appeal. Abdullah argued that the addition of the 25-year and 20-year firearm enhancements to his sentences violated ex post facto laws because it was unconstitutional at the time of his offense under People v. Morgan, 203 Ill.2d 470 (2003) (holding that the firearm enhancement to the attempt statute violated the proportionate penalties clause of our state constitution), and also deprived him of due process because the enhancements were based on facts not alleged in the charging instrument and not submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Abdullah later filed a pro se "Supplemental Argument," contending the imposition of consecutive sentences deprived him of due process, as well as a "motion for 'Additional § 2-1401 Relief from Void Judgment, '" contending that a fraudulent instruction was given to the jury.

         ¶ 9 Subsequently, trial counsel appeared on Abdullah's behalf and, after the State moved to dismiss the section 2-1401 petition, filed an amended motion to vacate both firearm enhancements, arguing again that the facts underlying the modifications to Abdullah's sentences were not submitted to the jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. On May 20, 2015, the trial court found it had erred by imposing firearm enhancements without the State charging them or presenting them to the jury but found this error harmless and denied the petition. After the court denied Abdullah's motion to reconsider, he appealed.

         ¶ 10 On appeal, Abdullah contended his increased sentences were void for two reasons. First, he argued that, because he timely filed a notice of appeal, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to resentence him on both counts and increase his sentences to consecutive terms with firearm enhancements. Second, Abdullah argued that, because Morgan, 203 Ill.2d 470, was controlling law at the time of his offense and original sentencing, the firearm enhancement for attempted murder was void ab initio and could not be applied to him even after Morgan was overruled in People v. Sharpe, 216 Ill.2d 481 (2005).

         ¶ 11 The appellate court rejected Abdullah's arguments and affirmed his modified sentences. 2018 IL App (2d) 150840. The appellate court held that, although Rule 606(b) directs the trial court to strike a notice of appeal when a timely postjudgment motion has been filed "by counsel or by defendant, if not represented by counsel" (Ill. S.Ct. R. 606(b) (eff. Dec. 1, 1999)), the term "counsel" is ambiguous. 2018 IL App (2d) 150840, ¶¶ 14-15. The appellate court construed that term to include the prosecutor and, therefore, determined that the trial court had jurisdiction to modify Abdullah's sentence. 2018 IL App (2d) 150840, ¶¶ 16-17. The appellate court also held that, despite Morgan, "the firearm enhancement factor for attempted murder was not unconstitutional prior to Sharpe; it was erroneously held to be unconstitutional" and thus was properly applied to Abdullah's 2004 offense. The appellate court denied Abdullah's petition for rehearing. 2018 IL App (2d) 150840, ¶ 20. We granted Abdullah's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Apr. 1, 2018).

         ¶ 12 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 13 The issue in this appeal concerns whether the circuit court properly denied Abdullah's petition filed under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2014)). Section 2-1401 provides a comprehensive statutory procedure authorizing a trial court to vacate or modify a final order or judgment older than 30 days. People v. Vincent, 226 Ill.2d 1, 7 (2007). Section 2-1401 provides a civil remedy that extends to criminal cases as well as to civil cases. Vincent, 226 Ill.2d at 8. Although a section 2-1401 petition must be filed in the same proceeding that the order or judgment was entered, it is not a continuation of the original action. 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(b) (West 2014); Vincent, 226 Ill.2d at 7. Rather, "[a] section 2-1401 proceeding is a new and separate cause of action that is subject to the usual rules of civil procedure." People v. Shinaul, 2017 IL 120162, ¶ 8. A petition filed pursuant to section 2-1401 must normally "be filed not later than 2 years after the entry of the order or judgment." 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(c) (West 2014). An exception to the two-year limitations period, however, exists when the petition challenges a void judgment. People v. Thompson, 2015 IL 118151, ¶ 29. This court recognizes only two circumstances when a judgment will be deemed void: (1) when the judgment was entered by a court that lacked jurisdiction or (2) when the judgment was based on a statute that is facially unconstitutional and void ab initio. People v. Price, 2016 IL 118613, ¶ 31. We review de novo a section 2-1401 petition that was denied or dismissed on legal grounds. Thompson, 2015 IL 118151, ¶ 25.

         ¶ 14 Here, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's denial of Abdullah's section 2-1401 petition, rejecting his argument that the orders modifying his original sentences are void because they were entered while an appeal was pending and, therefore, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to resentence him. The appellate court reasoned that, under Rule 606(b) (Ill. S.Ct. R. 606 (eff Dec. 1, 1999)), a notice of appeal filed before the trial court ruled on the State's motion would be premature and would not vest jurisdiction in the appellate court. The appellate court also rejected ...


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