Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Illinois Supreme Court

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Hommerson was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and sentenced to a term of natural life in prison. His convictions and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. He filed a pro se post-conviction petition alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The petition did not contain a verification affidavit pursuant to 725 ILCS 5/122-1(b). The circuit court dismissed the petition solely on that basis. The appellate court affirmed, concluding that a petition lacking a verification affidavit was frivolous and patently without merit. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the dismissal elevated form over substance. The legislative intent was that compliance with technical requirements was a matter for second stage review, after review of the merits of the claim. View "People v. Hommerson" on Justia Law

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Chicago police officers testified that a group of male teenagers was screaming, making gestures, and throwing bottles at passing vehicles, then retired to the backyard of the location, which was not the defendant’s residence. While in the street, he had been observed holding the right side of his waist area. In the backyard, defendant was heard yelling an expletive and was seen with a gun in his right hand before he dropped it to the ground. The gun was recovered; it had its serial number scratched off and was loaded with three live rounds of ammunition. The defendant testified that police searched the yard, showed him a gun and accused him of dropping it. He denied the accusation. His friend corroborated his version of events, but the defendant was convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He was sentenced to 24 months of probation for the use conviction, but no sentence was imposed on the latter offense. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the use conviction and remanded for sentencing on the possession conviction, noting that after the conviction, the Seventh Circuit held that 720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A) is effectively “a flat-ban on carrying ready-to-use guns outside the home” that violates the second amendment, which protects not only right to keep but also the right to “bear” arms. The Illinois Supreme Court said that that the federal decision did not mean that the right to self-defense outside the home is unlimited or is not subject to regulation, but only that the comprehensive ban is unconstitutional. The defendant was also convicted under a statute prohibiting possession of a firearm of a size which may be concealed upon the person by one who is under 18 years of age; he was 17. View "People v. Aguilar" on Justia Law

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The ability of consumers to make purchases on the internet from out-of-state merchants without paying Illinois sales or use taxes caused Illinois retailers to ask the legislature to “level the playing field.” The result was a taxing statute, Public Act 96-1544, effective in 2011, called the “click-through” nexus law. The law was challenged by a group of internet publishers that display website texts or images, such as a retailer’s logo, containing a link to a retailer’s website; they are compensated by the retailer when a consumer clicks on the link and makes a purchase from the retailer. Out-of-state retailers who use such arrangements to generate sales of over $10,000 per year become subject to taxation under the statute. Their challenge was based on the federal Internet Tax Freedom Act, 47 U.S.C. 151, which prohibits discriminatory taxes on electronic transactions, and the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the statute is invalid. The court noted that such marketing, when conducted through print media or on-the-air broadcasting, does not give rise to tax obligations under the Illinois statute. The enactment is a discriminatory tax on electronic commerce within the meaning of federal law, which preempts it. The court did not reach the commerce clause issue. View "Performance Mktg. Ass'n, Inc. v. Hamer" on Justia Law

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The Peoria School District employs 26 full-time and part-time individuals who work as security agents and guards. No other Illinois school district has this type of employee. These employees were represented by a union certified by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board since 1989. The last collective-bargaining agreement expired in June, 2010. In July, 2010, a statutory amendment, Public Act 96-1257, purported to remove these employees from the oversight of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board and redefine them as “public employees” subject to the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act and the jurisdiction of the Illinois Labor Relations Board. The School District sought a declaration that its labor disputes with these employees were governed by the statute concerning educational employees, rather than by the one concerning public employees, challenging the enactment as invalid “special legislation,” forbidden by the Illinois Constitution. The circuit court dismissed. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed without remand, holding that the challenged statute is invalid as forbidden special legislation because its language does not apply prospectively to school districts which may, after its effective date, employ peace officers. Although a general law could have been passed which would have affected a generic class of individuals, here, the affected class was closed on the effective date of the enactment. View "Bd. of Educ. of Peoria Sch. Dist. No. 150 v. Peoria Fed'n of Support Staff" on Justia Law

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Coleman was convicted for participation in a 1994 Peoria home invasion and was sentenced to consecutive terms of 30 years for armed robbery and aggravated criminal sexual assault. The appellate court affirmed; Coleman was unsuccessful in initial post-conviction claims. He claimed actual innocence in a 2009 successive post-conviction petition. The trial court held an evidentiary hearing at which Coleman called eight witnesses and the state called an investigating detective. The trial court denied relief, finding that Coleman’s evidence was insufficient to probably change the result on retrial. The Illinois Supreme Court ordered a new trial. To succeed on a post-conviction claim of actual innocence, a claimant must present new, material, noncumulative evidence that is so conclusive it would probably change the result on retrial. Although the state’s evidence at the original trial was sufficient to convict, there was no forensic evidence linking Coleman to the attack, and the prosecution’s identifications were significantly impeached. At the post-conviction hearing, Coleman presented the testimony of five men who admitted that they were present at the crime scene and that he was not. Although their credibility could be challenged based on their voluntary intoxication and criminal records, their testimony was consistent on key details. The evidence was new, material and noncumulative. On retrial, the fact finder can determine the credibility of those witnesses and balance the conflicting accounts. View "People v. Coleman" on Justia Law

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Johnson was convicted of first degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, aggravated kidnapping and concealment of a homicidal death. He was sentenced to terms of natural life plus 70 years. The appellate court affirmed Johnson’s convictions and sentences and dismissal of his subsequent post-conviction petition,(725 ILCS 5/122-1. Johnson filed a section 2-1401 petition for relief from judgment in 2008, which the circuit court erroneously dismissed. The appellate court remanded. The state filed a motion to dismiss his amended petition and requested that Johnson be assessed filing fees and court costs as an inmate filing a frivolous petition, 735 ILCS 5/22-105(a). The trial court dismissed and assessed numerous fees and costs against Johnson, including a $50 fee under the Counties Code, which provides that a State’s Attorney may collect a $50 fee for each day actually employed in the hearing of a case of habeas corpus. The prosecution argued that the habeas corpus fee applies to all collateral proceedings. The appellate court held that the reference to habeas corpus was generic and applied to all collateral proceedings, in order to deter frivolous filings. The Illinois Supreme Court vacated the fee, stating that, although there are several different types of habeas corpus proceedings, the Counties Code provision applies only to those and is not generic. View "People v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the Illinois Department of State Police denied Coram a firearm owners’ identification (FOID) card. The trial judge ordered issuance of the card. The State Police moved to vacate on the basis of Coram’s 1992 domestic battery conviction for slapping his girlfriend. He had pled guilty, but had not served any jail time. The Illinois statute provides for denial of a FOID card to anyone prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. In 1996, after Coram’s conviction, the federal Gun Control Act was amended to impose a firearm disability on those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. A different judge confirmed the previous order and, further, held unconstitutional, as applied, language of the federal Gun Control Act which was incorporated into the Illinois statute. Although that federal statutory language provided relief in cases of pardon, expungement of conviction, or restoration of rights after conviction, Coram, who had never served jail time, claimed that these grounds were not available to him under Illinois law. The Illinois Supreme Court resolved the matter without reaching constitutional questions concerning the right to bear arms. It vacated the holding that federal statutory law was unconstitutional as applied, but affirmed the original order directing issuance of a FOID card. Coram had a remedy under the Illinois statutory scheme, which provides a process to review whether an applicant for a FOID card should be perpetually barred from obtaining one or can have his second amendment firearm rights restored because he is determined to currently be a law-abiding, responsible citizen. That is what happened here. View "Coram v. State of Illinois" on Justia Law

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Chicago police officers testified that teenagers were screaming, making gestures, and throwing bottles at passing vehicles in the vicinity of 4217 West 25th Place and then retired to the backyard of that address, which was not the defendant’s residence. Defendant was heard yelling an expletive and was seen with a gun i before he dropped it to the ground. The loaded gun had its serial number scratched off. The defendant testified that police searched the yard, showed him a gun and accused him of dropping it. He denied having a gun that evening. Defendant’s friend corroborated his version of events. Convicted of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, 720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A), defendant was sentenced to 24 months of probation. He was also found guilty of unlawful possession of a firearm, but no sentence was imposed for that offense. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon must be reversed, but that the court should impose sentence for unlawful possession of a firearm. The Seventh Circuit has held that the “use” statute, which refers to “uncased, loaded and immediately accessible” is effectively “a flat-ban on carrying ready-to-use guns outside the home” and violates the second amendment, which protects both the right to keep and the right to “bear” arms. The other statute, however, prohibits possession of a firearm of a size which may be concealed upon the person by one who is under 18 years of age. The defendant was 17. Possession of handguns by minors falls outside the scope of the second amendment’s protection. View "People v. Aguilar" on Justia Law

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In 2009 plaintiffs challenged, under the Illinois Constitution, the Parental Notice of Abortion Act of 1995, which prevents a minor from obtaining an abortion unless a parent or guardian is first given notice of the minor’s intention or the minor obtains judicial waiver of the requirement. The Act has never been enforced. Months earlier, the Seventh Circuit had held the Act facially valid under the U.S. Constitution. The trial court dismissed the challenge. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reinstated the dismissal, noting the heavy burden in asserting facial invalidity. In Illinois, the right to an abortion derives from substantive due process principles, not from the constitutional privacy provision. State due process protections should be interpreted the same way as the federal due process clause, absent a reason for doing otherwise. The U.S. Supreme Court has found parental notification statutes constitutional under federal substantive due process and equal protection law. Although the state constitution includes a privacy provision not found in the U.S. Constitution, “reasonableness is the touchstone” of that clause,” and the Act is reasonable, having been narrowly crafted to promote minors’ best interests. The Illinois Constitution also contains a clause stating that “equal protection of the laws shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex,” but the Act does not create a sex-based classification. View "Hope Clinic for Women, Ltd. v. Flores" on Justia Law

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Defendant, charged with murder and home invasion, remained in custody after his February 8, 2009 arrest. After he was granted several continuances, trial was set for February 1, 2010. The prosecution then requested a continuance because the sole eyewitness could not travel for medical reasons. A second continuance was requested because the technician who had collected evidence was on deployment in Afghanistan. Granting this request brought the trial date to July 19, 2010. Defendant requested dismissal for expiration of his statutory speedy trial period, which he claimed ran out on June 26. The judge dismissed. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court remanded for trial, rejecting both defendant’s argument that the state may receive no more than a total of 60 days of continuance and the state’s claim that there is no limit to the number of continuances. Under the speedy-trial statute, “if a court determines that the State has exercised without success due diligence to obtain evidence material to the case and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that such evidence may be obtained at a later day the court may continue the cause on application of the State for not more than an additional 60 days.” The statute means that the 60-day period is tied to the specific evidence for which the continuance is sought. The prosecution may seek separate continuances to obtain different items of material evidence, but may obtain only one 60-day continuance for each. Awareness that two witnesses are unavailable means that the state should seek a continuance as to both simultaneously, rather than exhausting a continuance as to one and then seeking a continuance as to the other, unnecessarily prolonging proceedings. This defendant did not challenge the state’s due diligence, the materiality of the testimony, or reasonable grounds to believe that the testimony would be obtained at a later date. View "People v. Lacy" on Justia Law