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Counsel’s Failure Wins Convict New Trial

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A Streamwood felon will get a new trial after appellate judges in the First District ruled that he’d been poorly represented and wrongly sentenced when tried in connection with a parole violation in 2014. James Utley claimed ownership of the drugs and guns found in his wife’s home when cops and parole officers went there to serve him an arrest warrant. Prior to seeing a lawyer, he signed a written confession in order to spare her the legal recriminations threatened by police as he was being questioned. At trial, a Cook County circuit judge sent Utley to prison for life as a habitual criminal based on the statement and in light of previous drug and weapons convictions.

On appeal, Utley claimed that his court-appointed lawyer had failed him both by denying his request to have the confession suppressed. And, that counsel’s failure to obtain separate trials for the drugs and weapons charges resulted in a longer sentence. Citing the Strickland test, two of the three appeals court judges concurred that his lawyer’s inaction prejudiced Utley’s defense. While Justice Robert Gordon disagreed, he said that the consecutive sentences Utley received violated the state Constitution’s proportionate penalties clause.