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Evans v. Dorethy

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 12, 2016

Maurice Evans, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Stephanie Dorethy, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued July 7, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14-cv-7018 - John W. Darrah, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM

         An Illinois jury convicted Maurice Evans of felony murder based on the felony "mob action, " which led to the death of Daniel McKenzie. Evans argued on direct appeal that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine every factual element required for conviction. He contended that the trial court should have allowed the jury to determine whether the underlying offense of mob action had a felonious purpose independent of the killing. The last state court to address this issue concluded that the trial court "adequately apprised" the jury. Evans renewed his claim in his petition for collateral relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, but the district court denied relief. It reasoned that Evans's claim improperly asks a federal court to review a state court's interpretation of state law. We find that Evans's petition does, in fact, properly present a federal claim: the denial of his Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine each element of a state crime. But Evans's assertion that Illinois defines felony murder to include "independent felonious intent" as a factual element is wrong. We thus affirm the district court's denial of Evans's petition.

         Background

         We recite the facts as found by the state court in reviewing Evans's direct appeal. See People v. Evans, 2013 IL App (1st) 111921-U (111. App. Ct. Oct. 29, 2013). This case began with a late-night, gang-related brawl on a Chicago "L" train. Evans and three other young men were riding a northbound Red Line train at about 2 a.m. when brothers Daniel and Michael McKenzie and their friend, Rob Base, boarded the same car at 22nd Street. Evans approached Michael and asked "who he be" (a reference to gang affiliation) and Michael replied that, although he used to be a member of the Gangster Disciples, he "wasn't on that" and they just wanted to get somewhere. Evans then asked the same question of Daniel, who didn't answer. According to a fellow passenger, either Evans or one of his companions then warned, "Oh, okay. You GD, huh. Yeah, we at war with GD's. We New Breeds."

         A fight ensued. Evans punched Daniel in the jaw, and the men scuffled with fists, belt buckles, and a box cutter. The McKenzie brothers and their friend fled the train, but the clash continued. Evans's group chased the others across the train's platform. Michael and Rob Base got away, but Evans caught Daniel when he picked up a trash can lid to defend himself. CTA surveillance video, played for the jury, shows Evans's men kick Daniel and beat him with their belts until Daniel tumbled from the platform onto the tracks. (It is unclear whether he fell accidentally, jumped, or was pushed). Daniel fell on the third rail and was electrocuted.

         The state prosecuted Evans and his accomplices with felony murder based on mob action. To obtain a felony-murder conviction in Illinois, the prosecution must prove two elements: (1) that a defendant "kill[ed] an individual without lawful justification" while (2) "he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder." 720 ILCS 5/9-l(a)(3). Mob action, in turn, is "the knowing or reckless use of force or violence disturbing the public peace by 2 or more persons acting together and without authority of law." 720 ILCS 5/25-l(a)(1). Evans argued to the trial court that, in addition to the above elements, the jury must also find a judicially created third element for a felony murder: that he committed the underlying predicate felony of mob action with a felonious purpose independent of the murder. Evans proposed two instructions that, he asserted, would properly apprise the jury of this additional element:

In order for you to find the defendant guilty, you must find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the acts which constitute Mob Action do not arise from an act of murder, and that the acts constituting Mob action are not inherent in an act of murder itself.
In order for you to find the Defendant guilty, you must find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant acted with a felonious purpose for Mob Action that was independent of a felonious purpose for a murder.

         The trial court refused both proffers and instructed the jury using the two statutory elements noted above, from the Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions. The jury convicted Evans, and he received a sentence of 28 years.

         Evans appealed but obtained no relief. He argued on direct appeal that the court's refusal to allow the jury to determine whether he committed mob action with a felonious purpose independent of murder violated his right to have a jury determine every fact necessary for conviction. Citing Illinois law, he observed that "where the acts constituting forcible felonies arise from and are inherent in the act of murder itself, those acts cannot serve as predicate felonies for a charge of felony murder." People v. Morgan, 758 N.E.2d 813, 838 (111. 2001). The Appellate Court of Illinois agreed with Evans's description of felony murder. But, the court continued, the trial court properly instructed the jury. The Supreme Court of Illinois denied review.

         Smith petitioned in federal court for a writ of habeas corpus. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. He framed his jury-instruction argument as a denial of the Sixth Amendment right to have a jury determine beyond a reasonable doubt every element required for conviction. The district court denied his petition on the ground that a federal court may not review a state ...


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