Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed August 4, 2011



People v. White, 2011 IL 109689

Appellate citation: 395 Ill. App. 3d 797.


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

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

      Justice Burke dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.


      A man who was at a gas station at 79th Street and Yates Avenue in Chicago was shot to death there in January of 2003, at 10:30 in the evening. The area was well lit, and several people were able to identify this defendant and give information as to various aspects of the occurrence. At a bench trial in the circuit court of Cook County, White was convicted of first degree murder and received a 55-year prison term.

      In the appellate court, the accused had complained for the first time that his constitutional right to counsel under the sixth amendment had been denied when a lineup was conducted at the police station but his attorney, although present with him, had not been able to observe the witnesses who were viewers of the lineup. The omission of this issue in the trial court was sought to be overcome by the seeking of plain-error review, which the appellate court conducted after determining that it could do so on the basis of what it found to be evidence that was closely balanced. The appellate court found that the sixth amendment right to counsel had not attached at the time of the lineup because White had not yet been brought before a judge. Ultimately, it affirmed the conviction. Defendant appealed these issues to the supreme court. In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court also affirmed, but it approached the matter differently than had the appellate court.

      In this decision, the supreme court, after an extensive review of the record, reached a different conclusion than the appellate court and concluded that the evidence was not closely balanced. Thus, there was no basis for utilizing plain-error review (as the appellate court had done) as a justification for addressing the lineup question. Any error was minimal and would not have affected the result, and, thus, the defendant was not prejudiced. Because constitutional issues should not be decided unnecessarily, the appellate court’s undertaking to address them was inappropriate in the circumstances of this case. In addition, because there was no suppression hearing, the record was not fully developed on these matters.

      The conviction entered in the circuit court and upheld by the appellate court was affirmed. The supreme court rejected that part of the appellate court’s opinion discussing and rendering holdings on the issues of attachment of the right to counsel and the lineup procedure.