Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed February 2, 2012

People v. Wrice, 2012 IL 111860

Appellate citation: 406 Ill. App. 3d 43.

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

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

Justice Thomas took no part in the decision.

This appeal arises from an offense that is almost 30 years old. In 1982, a 33-year-old woman was sexually assaulted, beaten and burned in the attic of this defendant's Chicago residence. Several other men were also implicated in the attack. Before his Cook County jury trial, Wrice's motion to suppress his inculpatory statements was denied, and, after the jury was instructed on accountability, he was found guilty of multiple offenses in 1983. After his appeal to the appellate court, Wrice's convictions for rape and deviate sexual assault remained intact, along with a combined 100-year sentence.

Wrice filed a pro se postconviction petition in 1991, complaining that Detective Peter Dignan and Sergeant John Byrne violated his constitutional rights because he was beaten while in custody at Area 2 Violent Crimes Headquarters in Chicago. The circuit court entered a summary dismissal, and the appellate court affirmed. In 2000, Wrice filed a successive pro se postconviction petition. He cited a report from the Chicago police department's Office of Professional Standards (OPS) establishing that abuse of prisoners and coerced confessions at Area 2 was widespread and systematic. He argued that this new evidence increased the likelihood that his statements would have been suppressed, changing the outcome. The petition was dismissed, and the appellate court affirmed.

In 2006, there was released to the public the Report of Special State's Attorney Edward J. Egan, who had been appointed in 2002 to investigate allegations of torture by police officers under the command of Jon Burge at Area 2. Wrice received the report in early 2007 and sought leave of court to file a second, successive, postconviction petition, which is the subject of this appeal. This type of pleading is now subject to special requirements. Leave of court to file a successive postconviction petition must be sought and granted, and the petitioner must establish both cause for not raising his issues sooner and, also, prejudice. The circuit court denied leave to file, but the appellate court found that "cause" had been established based on the timing of the reports. It also found that prejudice had been established, relying on the Illinois rule of People v. Wilson, 116 Ill. 2d 29 (1987), that the "use of a defendant's coerced confession as substantive evidence of his guilt is never harmless error." (The Wilson case had been the first Area 2 police brutality case to reach the Illinois Supreme Court.) The appellate court remanded for a third-stage, or evidentiary, hearing. The State appealed.

Before the supreme court, the State conceded that there was "cause," but claimed that Wrice had not shown "prejudice," arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that admission of a coerced confession is subject to harmless-error analysis (Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279 (1991)). This is the principal issue presented for review.

In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court explained that the Fulminante case did not involve physical coercion. There, the United States Supreme Court agreed with a state court ruling that a confession was not voluntary when it was obtained by a paid government informant to whom the accused in that case (who was in jail) confessed in hopes that his listener would protect him from other fellow inmates, of whom he was afraid. The Illinois Supreme Court said that the United States Supreme Court in Fulminante used the terms "coerced" and "involuntary" interchangeably, as a convenient shorthand. Fulminante did not involve torture, and the Illinois Supreme Court said that the constitutional rule should be recast to provide that "use of a defendant's physically coerced confession as substantive evidence of guilt is never harmless." The court also noted that Wrice was not precluded from claiming both that he never confessed at all and that his confession was coerced.

The Illinois Supreme Court said that, although Wrice has satisfied both the cause and prejudice tests for being granted leave to file his second successive postconviction petition, he still has to establish the allegations set forth in the petition itself. What the supreme court is doing here is merely allowing the defendant to proceed. He still has an evidentiary burden to bear in the postconviction proceeding. What the appellate court had done was modified to provide that, on remand, counsel should be appointed for Wrice and that second stage proceedings on the postconviction petition should take place.