Cases Pending Highlights Criminal Cases in Illinois Supreme Court's March Term

March 05, 2020 7:06 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

The Illinois Supreme Court’s  March Term begins Monday, March 9, 2020.  Oral arguments are scheduled for March 10, 11, 17 and 18, 2020. A total of 11 cases will be heard – 6 criminal and 5 civil. The following criminal cases are scheduled for argument this Term:

March 10, 2020

People v. Rickey Robinson, No.  123849 

People v. William Coty, No. 123872

People v. Miguel DeLeon, No. 124744

People v. Patrick Legoo, No. 124965

March 11, 2020

People v. Donnell Green, No. 125005

People v. Rasheed Casler, No. 125117

Below is a summary for one of these cases, People v. Donnell Green. Summaries for these cases and others pending in the Illinois Supreme Court can be found in our Cases Pending publication, accessible to ALA members on the ALA’s website.

People v. Donnell Green, No. 125005

This case presents the issue of whether trial counsel’s prior representation of the intended victim of a crime -- as opposed to the actual victim of the charged crime -- constitutes a per se conflict of interest. 

Illinois law recognizes two types of conflicts of interest: per se and actual.  A per se conflict is one in which facts about counsel's status, in and of themselves, create a disabling conflict resulting in automatic reversal even absent a showing that the conflict influenced counsel's representation.  Currently, one way in which a per se conflict of interest is recognized is when counsel has a prior association with "the victim." 

Defendant was found guilty of first degree murder after the prosecution argued for the application of two doctrines: transferred intent and accountability.   Under Illinois's murder statute, the requisite mens rea may be directed towards either the decedent or another person, a codification of the doctrine of transferred intent.  And a person is legally accountable for another person's when, before or during the offense's commission, and with the intent to facilitate its commission, a person aids the other in the planning or commission of the offense.  The prosecution is not required to include in the charging instrument its intent to rely on either doctrine, so long as the theories are supported by trial evidence.

Here, defendant was a passenger in a car who said "I'll do it" but then handed the gun to another passenger who shot at the car of a rival gang, killing the passenger, Jimmy Lewis.  The prosecution theorized that the group targeted the driver, Danny "Keeko" Williams, or perhaps the actual victim Lewis or the rival gang more generally.

Defendant filed a postconviction petition, alleging a per se conflict of interest because his defense counsel previously represented Keeko, the intended victim of the shooting.  The lower courts denied relief, concluding that an intended victim does not fall within the per se categories, and only the Supreme Court should expand the existing categories.

In its briefing before the Illinois Supreme Court, defendant asserts that the intended victim in a transferred-intent situation should be included within the existing per se conflict category for prior representation of "the victim."  Alternatively, defendant argues that the Court should expand the per se conflict categories to include such a situation.  The rationale behind the per se conflict rule is that (1) when counsel has a professional association with a person or entity that might benefit from an unfavorable verdict against the defendant, it might subliminally affect counsel's performance in ways that are difficult to detect and demonstrate, and (2) the rule avoids an appearance of impropriety.  Defendant asserts that those considerations are also present in his intended victim situation.

The State responds by noting that no (precedential) case has found that the established per se conflict category encompasses this intended victim situation and has instead been limited to actual victims of charged crimes.  And the State suggests that the Court should not expand the per se conflict rule in this manner.  For one thing, transferred intent need not be alleged in the charging instrument, and ultimately the identity of the intended victim need not ever be definitively resolved.  The present case is just such a case in that some evidence indicated that Keeko was the target while other evidence indicated that the group was targeting the rival gang more generally.  Finally, if an intended victim could be a group rather than a single individual besides the actual victim, the per se conflict category would have the potential of disqualifying a prohibitive number of defense attorneys, particularly in smaller counties.

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