People v. Washington, No. 76651

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Writing for the CourtFREEMAN
Citation216 Ill. Dec. 773,665 N.E.2d 1330,171 Ill.2d 475
Parties, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 64 USLW 2699 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v. Kurtis WASHINGTON, Appellee.
Decision Date18 April 1996
Docket NumberNo. 76651

Page 1330

665 N.E.2d 1330
171 Ill.2d 475, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 64
USLW 2699
The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant,
Kurtis WASHINGTON, Appellee.
No. 76651.
Supreme Court of Illinois.
April 18, 1996.

Rehearing Denied June 3, 1996.

Page 1331

[216 Ill.Dec. 774] Roland Burris, Attorney General, Springfield, and [171 Ill.2d 476] Jack O'Malley, State's Attorney, Chicago (Terence M. Madsen and Arleen C. Anderson, Assistant Attorneys General, Chicago, and Renee G. Goldfarb, Michael P. Golden and Theodore Fotios Burtzos, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Joel T. Pelz, Ellen R. Kordik and Jacob I. Corre, of Jenner & Block, Chicago, for appellee.

Justice FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court.

The question in this case is whether due process is implicated in a claim of innocence based upon new evidence so as to permit the claim to be raised in a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 1992)). We hold that it is.


In 1982, Kurtis Washington was sentenced to 25 years in prison for murdering Tony Hightie. Hightie had been murdered outside his home in Chicago shortly after 9 p.m. on May 9, 1980. Washington was implicated in the crime by Donna McClure, Hightie's girlfriend, and Ronald Tapes.

McClure and Tapes witnessed the murder. At trial, they said that they had been sitting in a parked car near Hightie's home when they were approached by a man. The man said that he was looking for someone named Will. When McClure and Tapes proved no help, the man approached Hightie just as he left his home. Hightie had been wearing a jacket and hat that belonged to Tapes' brother who was named William. McClure and Tapes said that after a few words with Hightie, the man shot him. The man, McClure and Tapes said, was Washington.

Washington's defense was that he had been at a grocery store at the time of Hightie's murder. The store [171 Ill.2d 477] cashier, a person who had accompanied Washington, and Washington's mother all testified to that fact.

The appellate court affirmed the conviction and sentence on direct review (No. 1-82-1868 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)). In 1990, Washington filed a post-conviction petition, alleging nine grounds of error, six of which asserted ineffective assistance of trial counsel. See U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §§ 2, 8.

One of the grounds was that Washington's trial counsel, a private attorney who also served as Washington's appellate counsel, failed to investigate evidence that someone other than Washington murdered Hightie. The claim was supported with an affidavit of Jacqueline Martin dated March 3, 1990. Evidence was permitted on that as well as the other ineffective-assistance claims.

The trial judge held an in camera hearing in which he considered Martin's testimony. Underlying the claim at issue in this appeal is the substance of that testimony.

Martin told how Hightie had been shot after having been mistaken for someone else. Martin, who was 16 years old at the time, told how she had been present when Marcus Halsey, then her boyfriend, and Frank Caston had left Halsey's house to revenge an earlier beating of Halsey's brother. She, Halsey, Caston, and Caston's girlfriend drove in a car to an alley in a neighborhood in Chicago. She later learned that it happened to be the neighborhood where Hightie lived. Martin told how, after Halsey and Caston left the car, she had heard two gunshots, and, when the two returned, she had heard Halsey say "it was the wrong guy." Halsey and

Page 1332

[216 Ill.Dec. 775] Caston later changed clothes, discarding in another alley what they had earlier worn. Martin said that they drove to the home of one of Halsey's sisters, where she stayed the rest of the night.

Halsey was questioned by police the next morning. [171 Ill.2d 478] Martin accompanied him to the police station, as did Caston's girlfriend. At the station, Martin found in her pocket bullets that Halsey had handed to her the night before. She said that she threw the bullets away.

Martin said that after the police questioning, Halsey had threatened to kill her if she told anyone what had happened. Halsey's threats continued, Martin said, and so she eventually stopped going to Halsey's house. Some months later, Halsey's brother confronted her as she was walking near a park and forcibly took her to Halsey. She said that she was kept against her will at Halsey's house for three weeks to a month. She eventually escaped with the help of an unnamed acquaintance whom she happened to see while looking out a window. Martin said that she went immediately to her mother's house. That same day she left for Mississippi. She stayed there for six years. Martin told how at the time of the hearing she still feared Halsey.

In view of Martin's in camera testimony, Washington successfully sought to amend his post-conviction petition to add a tenth claim based upon the newly discovered evidence.

The trial judge denied relief under the first nine claims Washington asserted, including the ineffectiveness claim which was supported by Martin's affidavit and testimony. Regarding that claim, the judge referred to testimony given by Washington's defense counsel that, in preparation for trial, he had tried to contact Martin. Counsel had also testified that he believed Washington had a strong alibi defense and his strategy was to focus on that rather than to try to prove that someone other than Washington murdered Hightie.

However, the trial judge granted a new trial on the ground that Martin's testimony was new evidence which, if believed, would have "had some significant impact" upon the jury. The State appealed. Washington [171 Ill.2d 479] cross-appealed, contesting the denial of relief on the petition's other nine claims. The appellate court affirmed the grant of relief as to the newly discovered evidence claim without addressing the others. 256 Ill.App.3d 445, 195 Ill.Dec. 94, 628 N.E.2d 558.

We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal. Meanwhile, Washington, who had been released on an appeal bond, was charged with, pleaded guilty to, and was sentenced to probation for an unrelated offense. We revoked his appeal bond. Though Washington had failed to appear after the bond revocation, his counsel again filed a cross-appeal contesting the denial of relief under the petition's other claims. 134 Ill.2d R. 318(a). The State moved to strike the cross-appeal under the fugitive dismissal doctrine (see People v. Partee, 125 Ill.2d 24, 37, 125 Ill.Dec. 302, 530 N.E.2d 460 (1988)). We granted that motion, leaving for this appeal only consideration of Washington's newly discovered evidence claim.


The claim Washington raised is a "free-standing" claim of innocence; unlike the ineffective-assistance claim supported by Martin's testimony, the newly discovered evidence is not being used to supplement an assertion of a constitutional violation with respect to his trial. The issue is not whether the evidence at trial was insufficient to convict Washington beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellate court rejected that challenge on direct appeal. The issue is whether Washington's claim of newly discovered evidence can be raised in a petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act to entitle Washington to a new trial. Post-conviction relief is Washington's remaining hope for a judicial remedy, the time limitations of other avenues offering relief for such a claim having lapsed. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1202(c) (West 1992) (allowing such claims to be made in a motion for a new trial within 30 days); 735 ILCS 5/2-1401(c) (West [171 Ill.2d 480] 1992) (permitting such claims up to two years after a final judgment, the period being excused in certain limited situations, including "fraudulent[ ]" concealment of evidence). Executive

Page 1333

[216 Ill.Dec. 776] clemency, of course, would remain available to Washington. Ill. Const. 1970, art. V, § 12; 730 ILCS 5/3-3-13 (West 1992).

To decide the issue, we must see if either a federal or Illinois constitutional right is implicated in such a freestanding claim of innocence, since Post-Conviction Hearing Act relief is limited to constitutional claims. 725 ILCS 5/122-1 (West 1992). Washington argues that his claim implicates due process protections. The beginning point for addressing that argument is Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S. 390, 113 S.Ct. 853, 122 L.Ed.2d 203 (1993), where the Supreme Court rejected the contention as a federal constitutional matter. In light of our own constitution's due process guaranty, we must also assess Washington's argument as a matter of Illinois constitutional jurisprudence. See Rollins v. Ellwood, 141 Ill.2d 244, 275, 152 Ill.Dec. 384, 565 N.E.2d 1302 (1990).

Federal Due Process

The issue in Herrera was whether a freestanding claim of innocence following a Texas capital conviction could be raised in a habeas corpus petition in view of either the eighth amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment or the fourteenth amendment due process clause. Herrera, 506 U.S. at 397-98, 113 S.Ct. at 859, 122 L.Ed.2d at 215. Ten years after his conviction, Herrera claimed that his brother, who had since died, committed the crimes. The claim was supported by two affidavits. The Court said that the claim implicated neither the eighth nor the fourteenth amendment but also offered that, even if that were not the case, the claim was unpersuasive anyway. The opinion requires close study.

Looking first to the eighth amendment, the Court [171 Ill.2d 481] admitted an "elemental appeal" in the notion that the Constitution should be construed to prohibit the execution or imprisonment of the innocent. Herrera, 506 U.S. at 398, 113 S.Ct. at 859, 122 L.Ed.2d at 215. But constitutionally, a newly discovered evidence claim had to "be evaluated in the light of the previous proceedings" in which guilt or innocence was determined. Herrera,...

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344 practice notes
  • People v. Reed, Docket No. 124940
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • December 3, 2020
    ...Defendant bears the burden of proving that a substantial violation occurred. Id. ¶ 21.¶ 19 Over 20 years ago, in People v. Washington , 171 Ill. 2d 475, 489, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 665 N.E.2d 1330 (1996), this court found a freestanding claim of actual innocence is cognizable under the Act. We r......
  • People v. Robinson, Docket No. 123849
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    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • June 18, 2020
    ...784, 969 N.E.2d 829 ; see also People v. Coleman , 2013 IL 113307, ¶ 96, 374 Ill.Dec. 922, 996 N.E.2d 617 ; People v. Washington , 171 Ill. 2d 475, 489, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 665 N.E.2d 1330 (1996). Newly discovered evidence is evidence that was discovered after trial and that the petitioner co......
  • People v. Martinez, 1-19-0490
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • June 29, 2021
    ...¶ 61 It is well settled that "the use of false testimony underlying a conviction is a due process violation." People v. Washington , 171 Ill. 2d 475, 487, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 665 N.E.2d 1330 (1996). Convictions based on witness statements procured through police intimidation or coercion also ......
  • People v. Simmons, 1-17-0650
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    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • July 10, 2020, material, noncumulative evidence that is so conclusive it would probably change the result on retrial. People v. Washington , 171 Ill. 2d 475, 489, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 665 N.E.2d 1330 (1996). New evidence means it was discovered after trial and could not have been discovered earlier thro......
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328 cases
  • Miller v. Commissioner of Correction, No. 15421
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 26, 1997 the manifest injustice that would result from the continued incarceration of a demonstrably innocent person." People v. Washington, 171 Ill.2d 475, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 782, 665 N.E.2d 1330, 1339 (1996) (McMorrow, J., Furthermore, in considering a petitioner's request for a new trial, this ......
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    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • March 23, 2018
    ...innocence). States that do recognize freestanding claims of actual innocence apply varying standards. Compare People v. Washington , 171 Ill.2d 475, 216 Ill.Dec. 773, 665 N.E.2d 1330, 1337 (1996) (holding the defendant must present new evidence that is " 'of such conclusive character' as wo......
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