When to Raise Plain Error: A Matter of Perspective

February 06, 2021 9:45 AM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Kimberly Glasford

Recently, in People v. Kadow, 2021 IL App (4th) 190103, the Illinois Appellate Court, Fourth District, considered a plain error argument raised by the defendant for the first time in his reply brief. The court also advised the defendant that the better practice would have been to raise plain error in his opening brief. But perhaps that depends on one’s perspective.

In Kadow, the defendant raised a Miranda violation under the ineffective assistance of counsel umbrella in his opening brief, but apparently did not raise the Miranda violation in its own right. In his reply brief, he then added that the Miranda violation itself amounted to plain error.

The reviewing court stated:

 “We first note plain error was not argued in defendant’s opening brief and, as a result, the State has not had the opportunity to argue forfeiture. Although the better practice would have been to raise the plain error arguments in his opening brief, our supreme court has told us we may still conduct a plain error analysis even if it was raised for the first time in an appellant’s reply brief.” Id. ¶ 16.

First, it bears mentioning that the plain error doctrine provides an exception to forfeiture, not the other way around. See People v. Caffey, 205 Ill. 2d 52, 103 (2001). While the court did not explain why the defendant’s omission of “plain error” arguments from his opening brief denied the State the opportunity to argue forfeiture, the State would likely have known to raise forfeiture had the defendant raised the Miranda violation in its own right in his opening brief, even without characterizing it as plain error.  More importantly, perhaps, it is well settled that the State may forfeit forfeiture. People v. Williams, 193 Ill. 2d 306, 347 (2000).

Raising plain error in the opening brief may be better from the perspective of the State and the reviewing court, but a defendant may prefer to give the State the chance to forfeit any forfeiture. That said, as a practical matter, raising an error under the umbrella of ineffective assistance of counsel will likely alert the State that forfeiture has indeed occurred. And in that context, perhaps including a plain error argument in the opening brief is the better practice from any perspective.  

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