Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 24, 2014



People v. Hommerson, 2014 IL 115638

Appellate citation: 2013 IL App (2d) 110805.

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

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

      This Lake County appeal deals with the proper procedures in postconviction proceedings.

      Peter Hommerson was sentenced to a natural life term after a jury found him guilty of two murders in 2008. In 2011, after these results were affirmed on direct appeal, he filed a postconviction petition pro se, asserting that his trial attorney had been ineffective. His filing did not include the verification affidavit required by the Postconviction Hearing Act. For this reason, the circuit court summarily dismissed his petition, and the appellate court affirmed.

      In this decision, the Illinois Supreme Court explained that at the first stage of postconviction proceedings, statute directs the circuit court to act independently of any input from the State and to determine the “substantive virtue” of the constitutional claim, i.e., whether it is frivolous or patently without merit. The court may summarily dismiss under this test, but if it does not, the litigation continues to the second stage, at which time the State may participate and raise procedural issues such as lack of timeliness or, as here, failure to file the required affidavit. Proceedings which survive this second stage are then resolved by an evidentiary hearing held at the third stage.

      The supreme court said here that the resolution of procedural issues at the first stage was improper as not authorized by statute. The only dismissal allowed at this point is for a claim that is frivolous or patently without merit. This procedure is what the legislature intended, as demonstrated by the statutory language. The State’s objection to lack of an affidavit can properly be raised at the second stage. Thus, the supreme court’s ruling here neither eviscerates the requirement of a verification affidavit nor renders it surplusage.

      Both the circuit and appellate courts were reversed. On remand, second-stage proceedings should be conducted by the circuit court.