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Illinois Rejects Contention That an Attorney’s Own Representations in Court May Raise a Claim For Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Without the Direction of Defendant

Illinois recently answered the question of whether an attorney’s arguments in court could be used as “admission[s] of ineffective assistance of counsel.”[1] In November of 2019, the Supreme Court of Illinois decided that “a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must come from the defendant himself” in People v. Bates.[2] This holding came after the defendant, Quentin Bates, used his attorney’s arguments during a post-trial motion to allege ineffective assistance of counsel.[3]

Bates was arrested and charged with “home invasion” and “aggravated criminal sexual assault[,]” among “other crimes.”[4] There were two separate instances with two separate victims that led to the defendant’s arrest and charges.[5]In both instances, the State alleged that the defendant entered the home of the victim, carried a knife with him, and sexually assaulted the victim.[6] After the pretrial phase, each instance had separate trials.[7] While a public defender was originally assigned to both of Bates’ cases, Bates hired a different lawyer to represent him in the first trial only.[8] He did this after a motion in limine[9] was granted, allowing the State to introduce evidence from both instances at the defendant’s first trial.[10]

The defendant was found guilty for both “home invasion and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual conduct[.]”[11] His lawyer filed a motion requesting a new trial, “argu[ing] that the trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion in limine to exclude the other crimes evidence”[12]:

During the hearing on that motion, counsel stated that he was not defendant’s attorney for the case resulting from the assault of C.H. He stated that although he was generally aware of the allegations, he “couldn’t possibly do as good a job in defending my client since it wasn’t my case.” He also stated that he “was taken by surprise at the depth of the evidence and testimony brought by the State’s attorney, meaning, brought the victim—alleged victim, forensic scientists, I had no chance to review that. As [the court] know[s], had I been thinking about that case, I would have asked for review by our own experts.”[13]

This motion was denied by the trial court.[14] After this motion was denied, the defendant then appealed, arguing, among other things, that he was denied “effective assistance of counsel.”[15] The defendant asserts that his lawyer “admitted that he failed to review the other crimes evidence and the State’s discovery regarding the assault of [the second victim].”[16]The defendant argued that this admission warranted a Krankel hearing and “the trial court erred when it failed to conduct a Krankel hearing.”[17]

In People v. Krankel, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that, when a defendant raises a post-trial pro se motion for a new trial due to the ineffective assistance of counsel, other counsel should be appointed to represent that defendant in a post-trial hearing.[18] The court further stated that if a judge found there was ineffective assistance of counsel after this hearing, the judge “shall order a new trial.”[19] However, if the judge found there was “effective assistance of counsel, he shall deny a new trial and leave standing defendant’s conviction and sentence[.]”[20] Bates contended that a Krankelhearing was warranted in his case based on his lawyer’s arguments during a motion for a new trial.[21]

The Supreme Court of Illinois had never held that a defense counsel’s actions during representation could trigger a Krankel hearing absent the defendant raising a pro se motion.[22] In deciding Bates, the Supreme Court of Illinois looked to Illinois Appellate Court decisions with similar circumstances.[23] It agreed with the holding in People v. McGath, which asserted that “Krankel and its progeny apply only to post[-]trial claims raised by a defendant pro se.”[24] The court in Bates further stated:

To hold otherwise would be to subject the trial court to an unworkable standard requiring that it scrutinize every statement and action by counsel and perhaps even to inquire into privileged matters. Courts would have to question whether counsel’s actions are strategies, which would potentially force them to inquire into privileged matters and perhaps sow seeds of doubt into a defendant’s mind as to a strategy to which he previously agreed.[25]

The court concluded by holding, “[A] claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must come from the defendant himself. An attorney may raise a claim of his own ineffectiveness only if he does so clearly and at the defendant’s direction and informs the court that the defendant has instructed him to make such a claim.”[26]

In effect, Bates overruled all cases on the appellate level which held defense counsel may trigger a Krankelhearing in trial court without the “defendant’s direction” to do so.[27] Now, the trial court must only decide whether counsel was ineffective if the defendant makes the assertion himself.[28]

[1] People v. Bates, 2019 IL 124143, ¶ 1 (2019).

[2] Id. at ¶ 36.

[3] Id. at ¶ 20.

[4] Id. at ¶ 3.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at ¶ 3-4.

[8] Id.

[9] A “motion in limine” is “[a] pretrial request that certain inadmissible evidence not be referred to or offered at trial.” Motion In Limine, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019). Rather than disallowing evidence, in Bates, the court granted the motion in limine allowing the state to introduce evidence from both crimes, even though the defendant had not yet been tried for the second offense. Bates, 2019 IL 124143 at ¶ 4.

[10] Bates, 2019 IL 124143 at ¶ 4.

[11] Id. at ¶ 11.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at ¶ 12.

[16] Id. at ¶ 16.

[17] Id. at ¶ 14.

[18] People v. Krankel, 464 N.E.2d 1045, 1049 (Ill. 1984).

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Bates, 2019 IL 124143 at ¶ 14.

[22] Id. at ¶ 21.

[23] Id. at ¶¶ 29-32.

[24] Id. at ¶¶ 21, 32 (citations omitted); People v. McGath, 83 N.E.3d. 671, 683 (Ill. App. Ct. 2017).

[25] Bates, 2019 IL 124143 at ¶ 32.

[26] Id. at ¶ 36.

[27] Id. at ¶ 33.

[28] Id.