Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed April 19, 2012

People v. Edwards, 2012 IL 111711


Appellate citation:      Nos. 1-07-0714, 1-08-1089 cons. (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

      JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      In 1998, a woman who was inside a building on South Exchange Avenue in Chicago was fatally shot in the face as she stood at a window. A group of armed gang members had gathered outside, intending to shoot the first member of a rival gang to emerge from the structure. This was recounted by the defendant, who was 15 at the time, in a transcribed statement which he made to police. He alleged that his fellow gang members, who were closer to the building, were the first to open fire, while he, stationed across the street, only shot his gun into the air to demonstrate that he had fired his weapon. He was charged with first degree murder, along with six other fellow gang members, and was unsuccessful in seeking to have his statement suppressed as involuntary. At his separate trial on an accountability theory, no other evidence placed him at the scene and no physical evidence linked him to the crime. He did not testify, and the defense rested without presenting any evidence. A Cook County jury convicted him, and he received a 28-year term. The appellate court affirmed, and the supreme court denied leave to appeal. Edwards then began seeking relief by way of postconviction petition.

      Only one postconviction petition is contemplated by the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, and, to file a successive petition, leave to do so must be sought and granted. By this point, the initial standards for evaluating an original petition (which ask whether it is frivolous or patently without merit) are no longer applicable. Theories asserting otherwise, raised in this appeal, were rejected.

      The matter before the supreme court here represents Edwards’ last two pro se attempts to obtain leave to file a successive petition, both of which claimed actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. Both were rejected by the circuit court and then consolidated in the appellate court before it, too, rejected them. While this matter was pending in the appellate court, the Illinois Supreme Court decided People v. Ortiz, 235 Ill. 2d 319 (2009), which held that the usual statutory requirement of showing cause and prejudice before being allowed leave to file a successive postconviction petition may be excused where actual innocence is alleged. The appellate court considered the Ortiz ruling but found, again, that Edwards was not entitled to leave to file, holding that further postconviction proceedings were unnecessary because he had failed to assert a colorable claim of actual innocence as a matter of law. The elements of a colorable claim of actual innocence are that the evidence must be newly discovered, material and not merely cumulative, and of such a conclusive character that it would probably change the result on retrial, i.e., raising the probability that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have convicted in light of the new evidence.

      Edwards had submitted the affidavits of two women who claimed he had been with them at their home at the time of the offense. They had refused to come forward earlier. The supreme court said that this information was not “new” because Edwards had always known about it and, in any event, it could not be viewed as having been unavailable where there had been no attempt to subpoena the witnesses and there was no explanation as to why subpoenas were not issued.

      Edwards had also submitted the affidavit of a codefendant who now confessed that he was one of the shooters and who claimed that Edwards “had nothing to do with this shooting.” The affidavit was not received by Edwards until May of 2006, and the affiant could have been considered unavailable at the time of trial because of the privilege against self-incrimination which the affiant had held at that time. However, because Edwards had been convicted on an accountability theory, these averments, which did not assert that he had not been present when the shooting took place, did little to exonerate him. The result on retrial would not be changed. The supreme court said that the supporting documentation was insufficient to justify further proceedings.

      The denials of leave to file were affirmed.