People v. Little

CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois
Citation2021 IL App (1st) 191108,198 N.E.3d 621,459 Ill.Dec. 594
Docket Number1-19-1108
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Valen LITTLE, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date08 June 2021

2021 IL App (1st) 191108
198 N.E.3d 621
459 Ill.Dec.

The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Valen LITTLE, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 1-19-1108

Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, SECOND DIVISION.

Filed June 8, 2021

James E. Chadd, Douglas R. Hoff, and Deepa Punjabi, of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State's Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Janet C. Mahoney, and David H. Iskowich, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

PRESIDING JUSTICE FITZGERALD SMITH delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

459 Ill.Dec. 598

¶ 1 The petitioner, Valen Little, appeals from the summary dismissal of his pro se postconviction petition filed pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) ( 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2018)). On appeal, the petitioner contends that the circuit court erred in summarily dismissing his petition, where he made an arguable claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Specifically, the petitioner argues that counsel was ineffective when he failed to challenge the State's exclusion of an African American venireperson from the petitioner's jury pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.


¶ 3 The record before us reveals the following relevant facts and procedural history.

198 N.E.3d 626
459 Ill.Dec. 599

In 2014, the petitioner was arrested and charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault after his DNA was matched with the male DNA profile obtained from a rape kit performed on the victim, V.T., immediately after her April 25, 2006, attack. The petitioner's first jury trial resulted in a mistrial due to juror misconduct. The petitioner proceeded with his second jury trial on June 22, 2015.

¶ 4 During the jury selection process of that second trial, the trial court questioned 35 venirepersons. Of those 35, 6 were African American (Erma Barnes, Kenneth Addo, Demetrice Isby, Dianna Mogobo, Lynn Ann Walter, and Anthony Collins). Only one of these six, Addo, was selected and seated as a juror at the petitioner's trial. Three (Barnes, Walter, and Collins) were excluded by agreement for cause (two at the State's request, and one on the court's own initiative). Specifically, the court excluded Barnes because her niece worked at the courthouse and the trial court found her answers regarding her impartiality to be "disingenuous." Walter and Collins were excluded at the State's request because Walter had a prior commitment (i.e. , she had to pick up her sister from the University of Missouri) and Collins had failed to disclose a prior arrest. The petitioner unsuccessfully attempted to remove Mogobo for cause after she expressed equivocation as to whether she could be impartial since one of her family members had been sexually molested. After the court denied the petitioner's request, defense counsel used a peremptory challenge to remove Mogobo from the jury. The sixth African American venireperson, Isby, was peremptorily removed by the State. The State exercised four more peremptory challenges, one against an Asian venireperson, and three more against Caucasian venirepersons.

¶ 5 Relevant to this appeal, the following information was elicited by the trial court from venireperson Isby. Isby was single, worked as a security guard, rented her home in the west side of Chicago, and had three teenage children and a five-year-old. She enjoyed traveling and watching television in her free time. Isby did not list any prior jury service, any arrests, or any experience with the judicial system. Neither she nor anyone she knew had ever been the victim of a crime, had been charged with an offense similar to the one at issue in this trial, or had any involvement in the legal or law enforcement professions. The State never asked Isby any questions and did not indicate why it removed her from the jury pool.

¶ 6 The record further reveals that two similar, but non-African American venirepersons, Olya Koteva Ivanova and Vilma Quezada, were accepted and seated as jurors. During her voir dire , Ivanova stated that she owned a home in a northern suburb, worked as a janitor, was married, had three grown children, and enjoyed reading, bike riding, yoga, and walking in her free time. Ivanova did not list any prior jury service, arrests, or experience with the judicial system. She had also never been the victim of a crime and did not know anyone who had been or who had been charged with an offense like the one at issue in this trial or had any involvement in the legal or law enforcement professions. Similarly, Quezada stated that she lived in the north side of Chicago, worked in retail, owned her home, was married, had grown children, and enjoyed watching movies, gardening, and traveling in her free time. Quezada did not list any prior jury service, arrests, any experience with the judicial system, or that she or anyone she knew had ever been the victim of a crime, charged with an offense like the one at issue at this trial, or had any involvement

198 N.E.3d 627
459 Ill.Dec. 600

in the legal or law enforcement professions.

¶ 7 The 12-member jury that was ultimately selected and presided over the petitioner's second trial was comprised of 10 women and 2 men, only 1 of whom was African American. Because the facts of the second trial are set forth in this court's decision on direct appeal ( People v. Little , 2018 IL App (1st) 152711-U, 2018 WL 3414604 ) and have no bearing on the resolution of the issues currently before us, we need not repeat them in detail here. Briefly stated, at trial the victim testified about the night of her sexual assault. The petitioner, on the other hand, admitted to having sexual relations with the victim but maintained that the encounter was consensual and that the victim had reported him because he had not paid her enough for the encounter. The jury found the petitioner guilty of two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault ( 720 ILCS 5/12-14(a)(3) (West 2006)). The trial court subsequently sentenced him to two consecutive 10-year terms.

¶ 8 After the petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal ( Little , 2018 IL App (1st) 152711-U ), on January 4, 2019, the petitioner filed the instant pro se postconviction petition. Therein, he alleged, inter alia , that he was denied his constitutional right to effective representation when his trial counsel failed to challenge the jury's composition pursuant to Batson , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712. Specifically, the petitioner asserted that (1) the State excluded "all" the African American venirepersons from the jury based on their race; (2) "put[ ] all white females on an aggravated criminal sexual assault charge"; and (3) permitted two venirepersons, Ninfa Maruffo and Mogobo, to be selected as jurors even though they both stated that they had family members who had been sexually molested in the past. In support of his claims, the petitioner only attached portions of his trial transcript containing the voir dire of venireperson Maruffo and the trial court's subsequent denial of defense counsel's request to exclude venirepersons Maruffo and Mogobo for cause.

¶ 9 On April 3, 2019, the circuit court summarily dismissed the pro se postconviction petition, finding it to be frivolous and patently without merit. Specifically, with respect to the Batson challenge, the trial court held that the petitioner's allegations were both factually and legally groundless. As the court stated:

"Here, [the petitioner's] claim that the prosecution excluded every Black juror is rebutted by the record. The record of voir dire for [the petitioner's] second trial indicates that 6 of the 35 venirepersons questioned were Black. Of those 6: 1 was selected as a juror, 3 were excluded for cause (2 challenged by the defense, 1 by the prosecution),[1 ] 1 was excluded by the defense, and only 1 was excluded by the prosecution. Therefore, the prosecution did not exhibit a pattern of strikes or a disproportionate use of strikes against Black venirepersons. [The petitioner] has not alleged, and the record does not reflect, that the prosecutor's questions or statements during voir dire evinced a discriminatory purpose behind its single use of a peremptory challenge against a Black venireperson. [The petitioner] has not even arguably made a prima facie showing of discrimination. Therefore, [the petitioner] *** cannot establish that his counsel was even arguably deficient for failing to
198 N.E.3d 628
459 Ill.Dec. 601
raise a Batson challenge, and this claim is patently without merit."

The petitioner now appeals.


¶ 11 At the outset, we note that the Act ( 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2018)) provides a three-step process by which a convicted defendant may assert a substantial denial of his or her constitutional rights in the proceedings that led to the conviction. People v. Edwards , 2012 IL 111711, ¶ 21, 360 Ill.Dec. 784, 969...

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