Where the defendant is incapable of raising a meritorious claim pro se for the first stage of the postconviction proceedings due to mental illness, the appellate court lacks supervisory authority to hear as-applied constitutional arguments about the defendant’s mental capabilities not raised before the circuit court.

The 1st District Appellate Court affirmed the decision of Cook County Associate Judge Arthur F. Hill Jr.

In 2004, Roderick Allen entered the home of his mother, Frances Allen, and stabbed his sister, Debbie Whitebear, several times in the chest killing her. Allen asserted that he killed her to protect his mother from her abuse, as part of an ongoing scheme to “hide from him the existence of a real estate trust to which he was the beneficiary.” Allen claimed that it was from his real father, and that the man who raised him, Claude Allen, was not his father but in fact secretly a serial killer. Allen refused a public defender, who he accused of being in collusion with the assistant state’s attorney.

Allen had four psychiatric examinations prior to trial, with three doctors finding him unfit to stand trial due to psychotic delusional disorder. He refused to accept it, arguing that he was fit for trial, but the jury concluded he was unfit and he was remanded to the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health. After six months in a mental health center, he was found fit to stand trial and immediately moved to proceed pro se again, making a series of questionable motions asking for investigation into whether someone stabbed Whitebear in addition to Allen, and whether there was canine semen present. However, after another examination he was found fit to stand trial. At trial he asserted that he only stabbed his sister twice, and the additional stab wounds were inflicted by the first police officer who came on the scene. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and home invasion. Allen was sentenced to 60 years for murder and 25 for home invasion, served consecutively. His appeals were denied.

Allen then filed a pro se petition for relief including more remarkable claims, such as the trial transcript had been falsified in no fewer than 100 places. When his claims were denied, he appealed, asking the court again not to appoint counsel. However, there is no right for a criminal defendant seeking relief from judgment to proceed pro se at the appellate level, and his motion was denied. He filed two more successive petitions and numerous supplements seeking expert assistance reviewing court documents before the court granted him leave to file an appeal about the denial of his request for expert assistance. On appeal, he was appointed counsel.

Allen maintained that he was not mentally ill, but his counsel did not do so. Rather than argue that Allen’s claims were potentially meritorious, counsel abandoned all the claims and argued that Allen was so mentally ill he was incapable of making a pro se showing of a meritorious claim, so any nonfrivolous claim he might have due to mental illness will never be heard due to his mental illness. Counsel for Allen argued that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to him because Allen was unable to present the potentially valid claims necessary as a threshold requirement to receive appointed counsel.

The appellate court sympathized with the “Catch-22” that mentally ill defendants find themselves in, but held that they were not permitted to grant the requested relief as no argument was made on Allen’s original fantastical claims, and the state appellate defender raised only claims not heard before the circuit court, leading to an appellate waiver. The appellate court emphasized that they explicitly lack supervisory authority to review an as-applied constitutional challenge not raised in the petition, but noted that the Illinois Supreme Court had such authority.

The appellate court therefore affirmed the decision of the circuit court.

The People of the State of Illinois v. Roderick Allen
2019 IL App (1st) 162985
Writing for the court: Justice Mathias W. Delort
Concurring: Justices Joy V. Cunningham and Sheldon A. Harris
Released: April 18, 2020