The appellant in People v. Cook, 2019 IL App (1st) 161428, appealed the trial court’s denial of his pro se “Motion for New Trial for Newly Discovered Evidence, State’s Miscarriage of Justice for Withholding Evidence in Defendants Judicial Proceedings.” Cook contended that the court erred in re-characterizing his motion as a successive post-conviction petition and denying him leave to file it without first notifying him and giving him an opportunity to withdraw or amend it. The appellate court agreed and vacated the trial court’s order and remanded to give Cook the requisite notice and opportunity to withdraw or amend the motion. Id. at ¶ 2.

Cook filed his “Motion for New Trial for Newly Discovered Evidence, State’s Miscarriage of Justice for Withholding Evidence in Defendants Judicial Proceedings” absent citation or naming any statutory basis for his filing it. However, the motion claimed newly discovered evidence and argued that he was not proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he was actually innocent, and he was wrongfully convicted. Id. at ¶ 4.

The motion was not supported by any attachments. The circuit court issued an order finding that the filing asserted constitutional claims as a collateral attack on his conviction and characterized the filing as a successive post-conviction petition. In the same order, the court denied leave to file the petition, finding that the claims were barred by waiver and res judicata and that Cook had not stated the requisite cause and prejudice for a successive post-conviction petition to be filed. Id. at ¶ 5. Cook appealed.

On appeal, Cook’s sole contention was that the court erred in re-characterizing the pleading as a successive post-conviction petition without giving Cook notice and an opportunity to amend or withdraw it, as required under People v. Shellstrom and People v. Pearson. Id. at ¶ 7. The State did not dispute appellant’s contention. However, the State argued that the court was not required to provide notice, as the filing was not a pleading commencing an action cognizable under Illinois law.

The appellate court held that while it is settled law that the court can re-characterize a pro se pleading alleging a deprivation of rights cognizable in an post-conviction proceeding (even when it is not labeled as such), the Shellstrom court held “when a circuit court is recharacterizing as a first postconviction petition a pleading that a pro se litigant has labeled as a different action cognizable under Illinois law, the circuit court must (1) notify the pro se litigant” among other requirements. Id. at ¶ 10.

In response to the State’s argument that appellant’s motion did not include a pleading cognizable under Illinois law and therefore Shellstrom/Pearson should not apply, the court looked to People v. Swamynathan, which held that Shellstrom applied, despite not being a pleading commencing a cognizable action other than a post-conviction petition. The appellate court held that Shellstrom admonishments always follow a re-characterization, not just when the cognizable-action provisio applies. Id. at ¶ 16.

Ultimately, the appellate court found that the circuit court erred by not giving appellant the three-part Shellstrom admonishments upon re-characterizing his pro se motion as a successive post-conviction petition and denying leave to file it as such. Id. at ¶ 20. The appellate court vacated the trial court’s judgment and remanded to the case to the trial court to provide appellant with the Shellstrom admonishments.

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