Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed September 20, 2012


People v. Fields, 2012 IL 112438

Appellate citation: 409 Ill. App. 3d 398.


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

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


      This defendant had a wife in Henry County and was charged with committing multiple sex offenses against her daughter over a period of years which ended in 2006. Among the charges were allegations that he committed these offenses in his capacity as a stepfather. However, while still married to this woman, he had moved in with another woman in Moline, in Rock Island County, and was subsequently charged with committing a sex offense in 2005 against her nine-year-old daughter there.

      The Rock Island County case was tried first, and, in 2007, Fields was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. When the Henry County case, the matter at issue here, came to a jury trial in 2008, the State sought to show the defendant’s propensity to commit sex crimes by introducing both testimony about the Rock Island County crime and a certified copy of the conviction therefor. This it was allowed to do, and the Rock Island County victim testified. Fields was convicted on all counts.

      In both of these prosecutions for sex crimes against children, the defendant had been represented by the same attorney. In the appeal of his Henry County conviction, he alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel. He complained that his lawyer had a per se conflict of interest because the Rock Island County victim, who also testified at the Henry County trial, had been represented by this attorney in the capacity of guardian ad litem in an unrelated matter which lasted until 2003. The appellate court accepted this claim and reversed, remanding for a new trial.

      In this decision, the supreme court did not agree with the appellate court. A per se conflict of interest, which calls for automatic reversal, is one in which there is no need to show that the attorney’s performance was affected. It can exist where defense counsel has a prior or contemporaneous association with the victim, the prosecution, or an entity assisting the prosecution, where defense counsel contemporaneously represents a prosecution witness, or where defense counsel was a former prosecutor who had been personally involved with the prosecution of the defendant. These conditions were not present here. Specifically, the supreme court noted that the guardian ad litem involvement with the young witness was a thing of the past when Fields was later tried in Henry County, and that, in addition, the witness, as an individual person, could not be considered an “entity” assisting the prosecution.

      The appellate court judgment was reversed and the result reached in the circuit court was reinstated.