Criminal defendants do not lose all their rights, even after they plead guilty. The Illinois Supreme Court established a new standard expanding criminal defense rights earlier this month. It unanimously ruled month that people who pled guilty are not automatically blocked from later claiming that they were innocent.
2015-armed robbery conviction
The defendant in this case pled guilty to armed violence in 2015 after he was arrested at a Macon County home for possession of crack cocaine and a sawed off shot gun that were found in that home. After he pled guilty, he filed a post-conviction petition asserting that he was innocent.
The petition was based on an affidavit of another man who swore that the cocaine found in the home belonged to him and not to the defendant. A Macon County judge found that the testimony was unconvincing and dismissed that petition in Jan. 2017.
Illinois law allows individuals that were convicted of a crime to successfully assert a claim of innocence in a petition to a court. They must show that their rights were violated during the court proceedings leading to their conviction.
The 4th District Appellate Court dismissed his appeal in 2019. That court said it must follow a 1970 state Supreme Court decision that defendants are bound by their guilty pleas if they are represented by a lawyer and a trial judge carefully informs them of the plea’s consequences.
Supreme Court sets new standard
The state Supreme Court reversed and said that the appellate court relied on a nonbinding legal opinion in that 50-year-old Illinois Supreme Court case. It said that it would be a serious injustice and a criminal justice system failure to continue the imprisonment of a demonstrably innocent defendant because of their innocent plea.
The Court, accordingly, issued a new standard for defendants asserting their innocence after they pled guilty. They could succeed on these claims if they submit new, material, and noncumulative evidence that would clearly and convincingly lead to an acquittal if presented at a trial.
However, the Court upheld this conviction for other reasons. It did not accept the defendant’s argument that the information submitted to the court would have altered the trial’s outcome. The Court said that it was not unreasonable for trial court to have doubts about the truthfulness of the affidavit when that person came forward after being incarcerated and discussing the case with the defendant.
An attorney can help assure that a person’s rights are protected in every phase of a criminal prosecution. Their representation may be important for assuring that their defenses are fairly heard.