Friday, February 5, 2010

Illinois Supreme Court recognizes a possible claim for ineffective assistance of counsel

The Supreme Court of Illinois has found that a convicted defendant has alleged enough facts to support a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In this case, the defendant was convicted after a bench trial for attempted first degree murder and the appellate court affirmed. The defendant then filed a pro se postconviction petition, claiming that his trial attorney was ineffective in failing to request a hearing on his fitness for trial. The circuit court summarily dismissed the petition as frivolous and patently without merit, and the appellate court affirmed.

However, the Illinois Supreme Court held that the petition should not have been dismissed because it had stated the gist of a constitutional claim. The Court found that the petition met the burden of proof because it alleged that the defendant had told his trial attorney that he had been taking medication for bipolar disorder and depression and that he had previously attempted suicide. The defendant also alleged that he had been under medication at the time of his trial and that his attorney lied in claiming to be unaware of this. Attached to the petition were affidavits from defendant’s mother and aunt indicating that counsel had been informed about defendant’s bipolar medications and suicide attempts.

Based on this record, the Court found that the claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in failing to seek a fitness hearing was sufficiently supported. The Court remanded for postconviction proceedings in which the lower court would have to determine whether to hold an evidentiary hearing. The case is People v. Brown and it is available here.

Last year the Illinois Appellate Court sided with defendants who claimed ineffective assistance of counsel in at least twice. See here and here.

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