Robert R. Thomas
Robert R. Thomas

SPRINGFIELD — A 6-1 Illinois Supreme Court majority on Friday ruled that it can’t grant a post-conviction rehearing to a man after he’s already completed his sentence.

The justices were asked to remand a case to the trial court for rehearing by a man who alleges he received ineffective assistance of counsel.

The majority upheld the Illinois Post Conviction Hearing Act, which prohibits defendants, including Lanard Gayden, from filing direct appeals or post-conviction petitions after they have completed a court sentence.

The majority reaffirmed that the law does not prevent defendants from filing both an appeal and a petition at the same time while serving a sentence.

Gayden contended a “hole” in the law involving short sentences precluded him from further challenging his conviction.

Gayden argued that by the time the 1st District Appellate Court determined whether the record was sufficient enough to decide his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, his sentence had already ended, which prevented him from filing a post-conviction petition on the same grounds.

The majority opinion, authored by Justice Robert R. Thomas, emphasized that there is not a “hole in the procedure.”

Gayden was “not denied a remedy to challenge [his] convictions” because there is “nothing” in the law or in the high court’s case law that would bar him from filing a post-conviction claim before he had fully served his sentence or from that claim proceeding alongside a direct appeal at the same time.

Thomas added later, “nor does the statute create a class of defendants who never get a decision on the merits of their constitutional claims of ineffective assistance of counsel because they have served their sentences before their direct appeals have been decided.”

Justices Thomas L. Kilbride, Rita B. Garman, Lloyd A. Karmeier, Mary Jane Theis and P. Scott Neville Jr. concurred in the 14-page opinion.

Chief Justice Anne M. Burke concurred in part and dissented in part.

In her dissent, Burke criticized the majority’s decision not to remand the case as “fundamentally unfair.”

In 2014, a Cook County jury convicted Gayden of unlawful use or possession of a weapon for possessing a shotgun. He was sentenced to two years in prison and one year of mandatory supervised release.

After serving his sentence, Gayden appealed his conviction claiming ineffective assistance of counsel, arguing his lawyer failed to file a motion to suppress evidence of the shotgun under an alleged Fourth Amendment violation.

In 2018, a unanimous 1st District panel affirmed Gayden’s conviction, but declined to decide his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, holding that the factual record was too incomplete to rule on the issue. The panel also held that Gayden could file a post-conviction petition under the law.

Gayden took the panel’s advice and filed a petition for rehearing, arguing that the panel erred in its decision to hold off ruling on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim.

He also alleged that he lacked standing to file a petition for relief under the law because he had completed his term of supervised release while his direct appeal was pending.

The same 1st District panel denied the rehearing, reaffirmed its first ruling and dismissed Gayden’s claims that the post-conviction law discriminates against him because “a petition for rehearing is not an opportunity to raise new issues.”

Gayden appealed the ruling to the high court raising two issues.

He argued the record is complete enough to establish his defense counsel was ineffective for failing to file the suppression motion.

He also argued that if the record is incomplete, the court should remand to the trial court for an evidentiary hearing or allow him to file a post-conviction petition, even though he completed his sentence.

The high court affirmed the appellate court’s ruling that the record was insufficient to determine Gayden’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim, denying his request for a remand.

The majority also found “it impossible to speculate whether a motion to suppress would have been meritorious or whether trial counsel’s failure to file a motion to suppress was a matter of trial strategy.”

Citing its 2007 decision, People v. Harris, No. 102017, the high court majority also dismissed Gayden’s request for a remand on the grounds that he could have filed both the direct appeal and the post-conviction petition at the same time, before the end of his sentence.

The majority rejected Gayden’s reliance on a 4th District Appellate Court case, People v. Fellers, 2016 IL App (4th) 140486, from 2016. In Fellers, the appeals court found there was not sufficient evidence to decide on a defendant’s direct appeal. The court remanded the direct appeal to the trial court, even though the defendant served his sentence and could not file a post-conviction petition.

The majority, instead, cited its 2010 decision, People v. Carrera, No. 109294, which held a defendant has a “remedy to challenge his conviction” as long as the challenge is made before the sentence ends.

“The fact that defendant is now unable to seek relief using the proper vehicle for his claim — filing a post-conviction petition under the [a]ct — does not warrant a different result when defendant could have sought collateral relief before his sentence was served,” Thomas wrote.

“This court need not, and indeed cannot, create additional remedies apart from those set forth in the [a]ct for those defendants who fail to avail themselves of the remedies set forth in the [a]ct. To the extent the court in Fellers held to the contrary, we hereby overrule that decision,” Thomas wrote.

While Burke agreed with that logic and the majority’s decision to avoid the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, she vehemently disagreed with its ruling to deny the remand.

“The majority denies defendant any opportunity to have an important constitutional claim reviewed,” Burke wrote in her three-page dissent. “This is fundamentally unfair, and there is no legal basis for the court to deny such relief.”

Contending that the majority “misapprehends what [Gayden] is requesting,” Burke said Gayden is instead asking the appellate court to reconsider his direct appeal through an evidentiary hearing in circuit court.

The appellate court has the authority to grant that request, and it should because the ineffective assistance of counsel claim has a “reasonable probability of success,” Burke wrote.

“Nevertheless, the majority holds that the defendant’s failure to file a post-conviction petition, before the appellate court finds that the record is inadequate to address defendant’s ineffectiveness claim, strips the appellate court of any power to grant relief on direct appeal,” Burke wrote. “This conclusion is absurd, finds no support in the law and is fundamentally unfair.”

Gayden is represented by Assistant State Appellate Defender John R. Breffeilh. He did not respond to a request for comment.

The state was represented by Assistant Attorney General Jason F. Krigel.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office said the office is pleased with the decision, which provides clarity for courts and litigants.

This case is People v. Gayden, 2020 IL 123505.