Second District Holds that Moot is Not Frivolous and Second is Not Successive

March 16, 2022 9:15 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

By:  Kimberly Glasford

The Post-Conviction Hearing Act (the Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2018)) contemplates the filing of one petition. Successive petitions may only be filed with leave of court after satisfying the cause-and-prejudice test. Defendants, however, are entitled to one complete opportunity to demonstrate constitutional violations.

In People v. Taylor, 2022 IL App (2d) 190951, the Second District of the Appellate Court considered the interplay of these rules as well as the impact of the mootness doctrine.

Defendant Johnny Taylor filed a petition under the Act, asserting that appellate counsel’s ineffectiveness led the appellate court to dismiss his direct appeal. When the appellate court recalled the mandate in Taylor’s direct appeal, the trial court dismissed his postconviction petition as moot. Taylor later filed a second postconviction petition, which the trial court treated as successive. Because Taylor had not obtained leave of court, the court denied him relief.

On appeal, the reviewing court first determined whether the petition before it was successive, which in turn depended on the characterization of Taylor’s first postconviction proceedings.

The reviewing court recognized that a trial court may summarily dismiss an initial postconviction petition that is frivolous or patently without merit but found no case law associating mootness with that standard. The court found that while it was well-settled that res judicata, forfeiture or a lack of standing renders a petition frivolous and patently without merit, untimeliness does not.

The reviewing court found that mootness was akin to untimeliness in that it did not speak to whether a petition raised a constitutional violation or to an inherent element required to file a postconviction petition. The court also found that a petition need not establish that an actual controversy exists. Moreover, mootness, unlike res judicata, did not involve a judgment on the merits. 

Having determined that mootness does not render a petition frivolous or patently without merit, the reviewing court determined that the trial court erred in treating the defendant’s first petition as an initial postconviction petition. Thus, it followed that his second petition was not successive within the meaning of the Act.

Moreover, even if mootness could render a petition frivolous and patently without merit, Taylor’s second petition could not be treated as a successive filing, as Taylor had not received his one complete opportunity to show that his constitutional rights were substantially violated. Specifically, the trial court dismissed his first petition after the reviewing court recalled the mandate on direct appeal but before Taylor had the opportunity to withdraw his petition.

Taylor shows that courts must protect a defendant’s right to a complete opportunity to demonstrate that constitutional violations occurred. Practitioners should be aware, however, that an earlier Second District decision determined that “the mootness doctrine shares with the doctrine of res judicata all of the features that led our supreme court to hold that a trial court could consider res judicata at the first stage of postconviction proceedings.” People v. Angarola, 387 Ill. App. 3d 732, 742 (2009). Thus, the matter of mootness may not be a moot point.

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