Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed February 17, 2012




People v. Guerrero, 2012 IL 112020


Appellate citation: No. 3-07-0856 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).


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

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


      In December 1991, when he was 16½ years old, this defendant pled guilty in the circuit court of Will County to a first degree murder. The court was advised that he had previously been adjudicated delinquent and sentenced to the Department of Corrections as a juvenile. He was represented by counsel and entered his plea in exchange for the prosecution’s recommendation (which he knew the court did not necessarily have to follow) of a 50-year sentence under circumstances in which he knew that the maximum was 60 years. The sentencing judge imposed a 50-year term, but without any admonition that this term would be followed by a mandatory three-year period of supervised release (MSR). The attorneys waived a presentence report.

      Guerrero’s first attempt at postconviction relief, filed in 1994, was not successful. Postconviction relief allows incarcerated prisoners to assert claims of constitutional violations arising from the proceedings in which they were convicted, provided those claims were not previously asserted and could not have been. Normally, only one postconviction petition may be filed. Statute sets out specific requirements for the filing of successive postconviction petitions. Leave to file must be sought, and the offender must demonstrate cause for the failure to bring the claim in the initial postconviction proceeding, as well as resulting prejudice. “Cause” is an objective factor impeding the ability to raise a claim in the initial postconviction proceeding.

      Subsequently, in prison, defendant met a fellow inmate, Rolando Whitfield, who had been awarded a three-year reduction in his sentence because there had been no advice to him of the three-year term of mandatory supervised release (People v. Whitfield, 217 Ill. 2d 177 (2005)). However, Whitfield was a different type of case, in which the accused claimed to had been denied the benefit of his bargain because he specifically pled guilty in return for a 25-year sentence and later claimed he had received no advice as to the three years of parole. Guerrero, on the other hand, had known he could receive up to 60 years. Guerrero relied on Whitfield in seeking leave, in 2006, to file a successive postconviction petition.

      Guerrero claimed that his plea had not been knowing and voluntary and that, thus, he had been denied due process. At the factual hearing which was held, he testified that he had known, in general, about parole, or MSR. The circuit court believed Guerrero had not shown cause and refused to grant leave. Although the supreme court held in 2010 that the 2005 Whitfield ruling was prospective only, the appellate court subsequently reversed the circuit court and reduced the sentence to 47 years with three years of mandatory supervised release. The State appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

      In this decision, the supreme court said that the fact that the Whitfield ruling did not come until 2005 did not mean that, prior to that time, Guerrero had been “impeded” from raising a postconviction claim about failure to advise on MSR. This issue is not new or novel and has been dealt with in appellate court rulings for over 30 years, some of which were favorable to the defense. The supreme court said that lack of precedent for a position differs from the “cause” for failure to raise an issue which is a statutory prerequisite to a successive postconviction petition. In general, a defendant must raise an issue, even when the law is against him, in order to preserve it for review.

      The circuit court’s ruling, which was based on the facts and circumstances as well as the defendant’s testimony, should not be reviewed de novo as a matter of law, but for whether it was manifestly erroneous. Thus, it should be deferred to and, in the decision issued today, it was affirmed. The dissenting justice in the appellate court had opined that “this claim is unavailing for a number of reasons,” and the supreme court agreed with this. The appellate court was reversed.