U.S. EX REL. KUBAT v. THIERETNo. 87 C 8423.
679 F.Supp. 788 (1988)
UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Robert KUBAT, Petitioner,
James THIERET, et al., Respondents.
James THIERET, et al., Respondents.
United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, E.D.
February 25, 1988.
Jonathan Haile, James Craven, P.C., Jane Raley, Asst. Defender, Office of the State Appellate Defender, Fourth Judicial Dist., Springfield, Ill., for petitioner.
Neil F. Hartigan, Atty. Gen., State of Ill. by David E. Bindi and Jack Donatelli, Asst. Attys. Gen., Chicago, Ill., for respondents.
BUA, District Judge.
This case presents this court with a rare opportunity to confront some unique and significant legal issues. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), petitioner in this case seeks a writ of habeas corpus vacating his convictions and death sentence. His habeas petition marks only the third time since the enactment of the revised Illinois death penalty statute in 1977 that an Illinois defendant has asked a federal district court to overturn a death sentence.
On June 18, 1980, a jury in Lake County, Illinois found Robert Kubat guilty of the aggravated kidnapping and murder of Lydia Hyde. Following Kubat's convictions, which made him eligible for capital punishment under Illinois law, the State elected to seek the death penalty. The next day, after a capital sentencing hearing, the jury determined that there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude a death sentence. Based on the jury's finding, the judge sentenced Kubat to death in accordance with the Illinois death penalty statute, Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 38, para. 9-1 (1985).
Kubat appealed directly to the Illinois Supreme Court, which affirmed his convictions and sentence. People v. Kubat,
After failing to obtain relief on direct appeal, Kubat filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the state courts on September 14, 1983. Following an evidentiary hearing, an Illinois circuit court denied the petition. The Illinois Supreme Court then affirmed the lower court's denial of post-conviction relief. People v. Kubat,
Having exhausted his appeals in the state courts, Kubat now seeks federal habeas relief. In his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, Kubat asks this court to vacate both his convictions and his death sentence.
Kubat presents numerous arguments under the Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution in support of his petition to vacate his convictions and sentence. With respect to his convictions, Kubat first argues he was denied due process because insufficient evidence was presented at trial to sustain the jury's verdict of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Second, Kubat asserts his right to due process was violated when the jury was allowed to hear unreliable testimony by witnesses whose identifications of Kubat at trial resulted from unduly suggestive identification procedures. Third, Kubat argues the deficient performance of his trial counsel resulted in a denial of his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.
In attacking his death sentence, Kubat first claims that his counsel should have requested—and the judge should have presented—an instruction on a lesser included offense, which would have given the jury the option of convicting Kubat of a noncapital crime. Kubat next contends that his attorneys' inadequate performance during the sentencing hearing deprived him of effective assistance of counsel. Third, Kubat asserts that his death sentence cannot stand because the judge erroneously instructed the jury that a unanimous verdict was required to preclude the death penalty. Finally, Kubat argues that the Illinois Death Penalty Act violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. This court will first address Kubat's arguments concerning his convictions, and then turn to the issues raised regarding his sentence.
A. Conviction Phase
1. Sufficiency of Evidence at Trial
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that guilt of a criminal charge be established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship,
According to the standards set forth above, this court is first required to examine the evidence offered at trial in the light most favorable to the prosecution. Since Kubat's sufficiency of evidence argument essentially focuses on the alleged unreliability of testimony offered by Carolyn Quick, a review of her trial testimony will be undertaken before addressing the merits of Kubat's assertions. The following summary of Ms. Quick's testimony is excerpted
In the early afternoon of November 2, 1979, the body of Lydia Hyde was found along a highway in Lake County, Illinois, just one mile south of the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The victim had been shot in the back of the head at close range.
The principal prosecution witness at trial was Carolyn Quick, the former wife of Kubat. On November 23, 1979, after seeking the advice of counsel, Ms. Quick surrendered herself to law enforcement officials and admitted participation in the abduction of Mrs. Hyde from a Kenosha tavern known as the Coffee And. In exchange for Ms. Quick's cooperation, the State agreed to dismiss the aggravated kidnapping charge pending against her. At trial, Ms. Quick testified as to the following events.
On November 1, 1979, shortly after returning from a road trip in Iowa, Kubat and Ms. Quick drove in separate cars to the Nugget lounge in Berwyn, Illinois. Kubat was carrying a .38 caliber pistol which he had taken from the home of Ray Flatoff, a man with whom Ms. Quick had been previously living. The two arrived at approximately 11:00 p.m. and consumed a couple of drinks. After the Nugget closed at 12:50 a.m. the two motored to Ed's Grill. Leaving Ms. Quick's car in the parking lot of Ed's Grill, the two departed in Kubat's white 1977 Chevrolet station wagon for Kenosha, Wisconsin.
During the early morning hours of November 2, 1979, Kubat and Ms. Quick parked in the lot of the Kickapoo gas station in Kenosha, and the two napped there until the station opened. After putting the car in order, purchasing gas, and using the washroom, Kubat and Ms. Quick drove to the Chat and Chew diner. Ms. Quick went inside the restaurant by herself, ate a bowl of oatmeal, and ordered two coffees to go. The two then drove through town and stopped at the Back Door restaurant and bar but were informed by a waitress that the restaurant was not yet open. Instead, the couple proceeded to the Sunnyside restaurant and bar where Ms. Quick ordered a can of grapefruit juice and Kubat an Old Style beer and a shot of Canadian Club ("CC"). Approximately 45 minutes later, the two left the Sunnyside and returned to the Back Door which was then open for business.
Kubat and Ms. Quick entered the Back Door tavern at approximately 11:00 a.m. Kubat, while consuming half of a sandwich, an Old Style beer, and a shot of CC, engaged in a lengthy conversation with the owners of the Back Door, Jesse and Nora Lopez. During the conversation, Ms. Quick commented that Mr. Lopez had "beautiful gray hair." Sandra Lawson, the waitress who had previously informed the couple the Back Door was not yet open, overheard Ms. Quick's comment and humorously responded: "It ought to be pretty, he combs it all the time." Around noon, the couple was asked by Ms. Lawson if they would be staying for lunch, and Kubat stated they would be leaving shortly.
After departing from the Back Door, Kubat and Ms. Quick drove to the Coffee And tavern where Lydia Hyde was alone, bartending. Kubat drank an Old Style and shot of CC; Ms. Quick drank a glass of grapefruit juice. While the two were sitting at the bar, people living above the tavern came downstairs, mixed drinks, and returned to their apartments. After watching Mrs. Hyde place a money bag in the register, Kubat displayed a .38 caliber revolver and ordered Mrs. Hyde to place the money from the register into the bag. At Kubat's direction, Ms. Quick emptied the beer can and glasses on the floor and put them in her purse. Mrs. Hyde was ordered into Kubat's car and seated in the front of the wagon between Ms. Quick, who was driving, and Kubat. At defendant's direction, Ms. Quick drove into Illinois. Kubat told Ms. Quick to stop the car near a road sign and ordered Mrs. Hyde out of the car. Kubat directed Mrs. Hyde to place both hands on the road sign. As she did, Kubat, who was standing behind her, told Mrs. Hyde "she wouldn't feel a
Kubat and Ms. Quick proceeded to Valentine's restaurant in Stickney, Illinois. After ordering lunch and drinking an Old Style beer and a shot of CC, the two departed for M & D's lounge in Berwyn, Illinois. While at M & D's, Kubat and Ms. Quick saw the owners, Michael and Delores Padgen, and their son Thomas, with whom they were acquainted. Mr. Padgen gave Kubat a package of paper towels that Kubat had previously ordered. While Kubat enjoyed yet another glass of Old Style and shot of CC, he spoke to the Padgens about a play he and Ms. Quick might see later that night. Ms. Quick handed Thomas, who was bartending, the three glasses she had taken from the Coffee And and told Thomas to keep them even though he stated they did not belong to M & D's. Leaving M & D's lounge, Kubat and Ms. Quick returned to Ed's Grill to retrieve Ms. Quick's car and then drove separately to the Brookfield Motel where they spent the night. Kubat left the motel the following morning at about 7:00 a.m. Ms. Quick left about 11:00 a.m. and went to see her friend Joy Jesuit in Chicago. Ms. Quick stayed with Jesuit for a few weeks and saw Kubat every day at Jesuit's tavern.
On November 9 or 10, Kubat and Ms. Quick went to a Goodyear Tire store and purchased new tires for Kubat's Chevrolet wagon. Ms. Quick believed the old tires were in good condition, but acknowledged that on several occasions Kubat had experienced trouble with the rims.
Ms. Quick left Jesuit's residence on November 19 and drove to Ray Flatoff's home in South Bend, Indiana. After telling Flatoff about the kidnapping and murder of Mrs. Hyde, the two visited an attorney, Edward Olczak, who advised Ms. Quick to speak to law enforcement authorities. She did so on November 23, and after several days of investigation, Ms. Quick was taken into custody by Lake County officials.
On cross-examination, Ms. Quick was repeatedly questioned concerning her sleeping arrangements and sexual intimacy with Kubat following their marriage in August 1979. She stated that she did not sleep with Kubat when they lived together with Francine Bejda in Lyons, Illinois. After persistent cross-examination by defense counsel in an attempt to establish that she had lied under oath in an annulment proceeding, Ms. Quick equivocated, conceding the possibility that she and Kubat might have had sex on a night they spent together in a Wyoming motel returning from a trip to Nevada. Ms. Quick further stated that she had phoned the FBI on several occasions in 1979 to report that Kubat was stealing, but never received a satisfactory response. Ms. Quick also admitted that she had once threatened to harm Kubat with a gun.
Kubat asserts that the only evidence linking him to the November 2, 1979 abduction and murder of Lydia Hyde is the testimony of Carolyn Quick, a confessed felon who Kubat asserts threatened his life and whose testimony at trial was premised on promises of nonprosecution by the State. Relying on Lee v. Illinois,
Although Kubat asserts that the decision in Lee v. Illinois shrouds Ms. Quick's testimony with a presumption of unreliability, a close examination of that case leads to a
The present case differs from Lee in several respects. First, unlike Lee, the inculpating evidence in the instant case was presented through the direct testimony of an accomplice and not a third-party hearsay witness. Second, Kubat had a meaningful opportunity to cross-examine the witness offering inculpating testimony. By virtue of her leniency agreement with the State, Ms. Quick waived her Fifth Amendment privilege and answered all questions asked by Kubat's counsel. Finally, while Kubat relies on general considerations of due process in asserting the presumptive unreliability of Ms. Quick's testimony, the holding in Lee rests on the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.
Although due process is violated when a conviction is obtained through the use of unreliable evidence, due process does not mandate that a presumption of unreliability attach to the inculpating testimony of an accomplice when the accused is given a meaningful opportunity for cross-examination. As a general rule, the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice is not per se unreliable and is sufficient to sustain a conviction unless patently incredible. United States v. Evans,
Under this rule, if Ms. Quick's testimony is capable of belief by a rational person, then the jury was entitled to credit her testimony with whatever weight it deemed appropriate. Nothing about Ms. Quick's testimony concerning the abduction and murder of Lydia Hyde is "so contrary to the laws of nature and human experience that no rational person could believe it beyond a reasonable doubt." Wilcox v. Ford,
Recently, however, the Seventh Circuit opined that accomplice testimony in a murder prosecution may be inherently unreliable. United States ex rel. Miller v. Greer,
Miller, 789 F.2d at 446.
Granting certiorari, the Supreme Court reversed, finding the prosecutor's reference to the accused's silence after arrest did not amount to a Doyle violation. Although the Seventh Circuit's decision was reversed, the Supreme Court never addressed the circuit court's statement regarding the unreliability of accomplice testimony in murder prosecutions. This court recognizes that the circuit court's statements must be read in the context of its opinion and are of questionable precedential value. Thus, it is doubtful that the Seventh Circuit's observations in Miller apply to the present case. Yet, even if language in Miller suggests that a presumption of unreliability attach to Ms. Quick's testimony, the same result would be reached.
At Kubat's trial, the State presented numerous witnesses whose testimony corroborated that of Ms. Quick. Rhonda Meeker recalled seeing a couple napping in a white station wagon parked in her Kenosha service station lot the morning of November 2. Nick Bastian, a bartender at the Sunnyside bar in Kenosha, stated he served an Old Style beer and shot of CC to a man who accompanied Ms. Quick the morning of November 2.
Michael and Delores Padgen, who owned M & D's bar, and their son Thomas stated they saw Kubat and Ms. Quick at their tavern in the late afternoon of the day in question. Delores Padgen testified that the couple had told her they were in Wisconsin that day. Thomas Padgen stated that Ms. Quick gave him three glasses which did not match those used at M & D's and told Thomas to keep them. Thomas identified People's Exhibit 10 as one of those glasses. Subsequently, Julie Lewis, owner of the Coffee And, identified People's Exhibit 10 as one of the types of glasses she used at her bar.
The most important corroborating testimony offered by the State came from three witnesses who identified Kubat as the man they saw in the Back Door bar at 11:00 a.m. on November 2. Jesse and Nora Lopez, owners of the Back Door, testified that Kubat and Ms. Quick were in the bar for about 45 minutes and ordered a sandwich and drinks (an Old Style beer and shot of CC). Jesse conversed with the couple for 20-25 minutes during their visit. Sandra Lawson, a waitress at the Back Door, also recalled seeing the couple in the tavern on the day in question and recalled part of the conversation they were having with Jesse Lopez.
Kubat complains, however, that the in-court identifications made by Lawson and the Lopezes were rendered unreliable by impermissively suggestive identification procedures. As a result, Kubat contends their testimony should not be considered in determining whether the State's evidence was sufficient to sustain a guilty verdict.
For reasons detailed later in this opinion, this court is unable to accept Kubat's arguments concerning the identification procedures employed in this case. However, even without the in-court identifications by Lawson and the Lopezes, the testimony offered by the above-mentioned witnesses makes clear that sufficient corroborating evidence was presented at trial to rebut any presumption of unreliability regarding Ms. Quick's testimony. As such, this court finds that sufficient evidence was presented at trial to sustain Kubat's convictions.
2. Identification Procedures
Kubat argues that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when the state court failed to suppress the identification testimony of three prosecution witnesses despite the fact identification procedures employed by police created a substantial likelihood of misidentification and no reliable basis for their in-court identification testimony existed. Kubat's arguments center on a series of photographic arrays displayed to Jesse Lopez, Nora Lopez, and Sandra Lawson at the Back Door bar. Kubat essentially contends that the suggestive procedures used by police in obtaining his identification combined to render the witnesses' identification testimony unreliable.
In reaching the conclusion that the witnesses' identification testimony was reliable and properly admitted, the state supreme court made certain findings of fact regarding the events preceding the witnesses' pre-trial identifications of Kubat. See Kubat I, 94 Ill.2d at 468-71, 69 Ill.Dec. at 43-46, 447 N.E.2d at 260-63. Whether identification procedures are so suggestive that a substantial likelihood of misidentification exists and whether subsequent in-court identifications are rendered unreliable are mixed questions of law and fact. Sumner v. Mata,
Kubat I, 94 Ill.2d at 468-71, 69 Ill.Dec. at 43-44, 447 N.E.2d at 260-61.
As an initial matter, Kubat argues that the state court failed to acknowledge certain key facts reflected in the record which bear on the propriety of the identification procedures employed. The law is clear that when a state court opinion fails to include legally significant facts, the state court findings, to the extent of such omissions, are not fairly supported by the record. Dickerson v. Alabama,
The first alleged material omissions concern statements made by Detective Myhre. According to Kubat, the state court failed to observe that Detective Myhre acknowledged that Kubat's color photograph was "distinctively different" than others included in the first array. Tr. at 127. Kubat also asserts the state court ignored Detective Myhre's testimony that neither Sandra Lawson nor the Lopezes were able to positively identify Kubat's photograph from the initial display. P.C. Tr. at 351-53. The second alleged material omission concerns testimony offered by Nora Lopez in which she acknowledges that she was unable to make a positive identification after viewing the first photo array. Tr. at 303, 1328. Finally, Kubat notes that although the state court opinion properly states that the three witnesses were each shown a subsequent photo display, the opinion fails to observe that he was the only individual who was common to all three arrays.
With regard to Kubat's contentions regarding Detective Myhre's testimony, this
Detective Myhre's testimony regarding the witnesses' inability to positively identify Kubat after the first photo display is also of little importance. The state court opinion recognizes that none of the three witnesses could positively identify Kubat from the first array. Myhre's testimony is merely repetitive of these findings. The same is true concerning the testimony of Nora Lopez. Through the testimony of Detective Myhre, the state court observed that Nora Lopez was not absolutely certain Kubat's picture revealed the same man who was in her bar on November 2. Moreover, the opinion noted Nora Lopez' testimony that she was not certain of her initial photographic identification.
Kubat's final contention, however, has merit. The fact that Kubat's photographs were the only ones common to each of the three arrays was not discussed in the state court opinion and is material to the alleged suggestiveness of the subsequent displays. See Simmons v. United States,
In Stovall v. Denno,
Under the first prong of the Manson test, Kubat argues that the combination of identification procedures used by police was unnecessarily suggestive. Kubat first points to the fact that his picture differed in format from others contained in the first collection of photographs and emphasizes that he was the only individual pictured wearing glasses. Kubat asserts that the variations in lighting, background and pose between his photo and the others had the effect of singling him out. Similarly, Kubat argues the fact he was the only person pictured wearing glasses is significant because prior to exhibiting the first photographic array, police knew the suspect had been described as wearing glasses. Kubat contends these factors had the effect of
In Fernandez, shortly after a bank robbery, police obtained descriptions of the assailants from eyewitnesses and received 17 photographs depicting the robbers from surveillance cameras in the bank. Fernandez, 456 F.2d at 639. Both the photographs and the witnesses' descriptions indicated one of the suspects was a lightlyskinned black man with an Afro. Police compiled a six-photograph array of black men including a picture of Fernandez. Id. Despite the police officers' knowledge the suspect was nearly white in skin tone, only one of the six photographs depicted a lightly-skinned black with an Afro. Id. Fernandez' photograph was identified by the witnesses. Id. Noting the absence of any additional photographs in the array which even remotely resembled Fernandez, the court found the identification procedure unnecessarily suggestive. Id. at 641-42. Given that police had surveillance photographs which clearly depicted the physical features of the suspects and no exigent circumstances existed, the court determined police should have included at least another picture of an individual approximating Fernandez in skin color and hairstyle. Id.
The decision in United States ex rel. Cannon v. Montanye focused on possible suggestiveness in conducting a corporeal line-up. United States ex rel. Cannon v. Montanye, 486 F.2d at 266-68. Days after the rape of a woman, police arrested Cannon at his home and instructed him to wear a green sweater. Id. at 266. Because the victim had been grabbed from behind and raped with her skirt over her head, the victim was only able to describe her attacker as a black male wearing a green shirt. Id. at 267. At a line-up consisting of six black males, the victim identified Cannon as her assailant, noting that like her attacker, Cannon wore a green garment. Id. Cannon objected to the line-up arguing it was impermissively suggestive since he was the only one told to wear green. Id. Because the record was silent concerning whether Cannon was indeed the only man at the line-up wearing green clothing, the circuit court remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 268. In doing so, the court implied that if Cannon was the only one wearing green, it would find the line-up unnecessarily suggestive. Id. at 267.
This court is unable to agree that the procedures used in conducting the first photo array in the instant case are analogous to those found unduly suggestive in Fernandez and Cannon. In Fernandez, the court placed great emphasis on the fact that police possessed numerous photographs precisely depicting the skin tone and hair style of the assailant before conducting the photographic line-up. Because the bank photographs revealed the skin tone of the robber was nearly white and police failed to include any photographs even remotely resembling that of Fernandez, the photo display was found unnecessarily suggestive. Similarly, the request that Cannon wear green before appearing in a line-up, when the victim was only able to describe her assailant as a black male wearing a green shirt, rendered the identification procedure suggestive. Here, the simple fact that Kubat was the only person pictured in the first array wearing glasses does not arise to any significant level of suggestiveness. No suggestion is made that the man in the Coffee And was described as wearing any particular type of glasses which would have cued witnesses to Kubat's photo. Moreover, contrary to Kubat's claim of suggestiveness, the manner in which Kubat appears in the first display more likely had an opposite effect. The picture of which Kubat complains shows a smiling man in a plaid shirt and light blue pants standing in what appears to be a living room next to a couch and television. Admittedly, Kubat's photo, which appears the type taken by a family member or friend, differs from the other
Kubat next contends the subsequent arrays shown to Lawson and the Lopezes were impermissibly suggestive. First, Kubat notes that his photograph was the only one to be repeated in each of the three collections. Because the witnesses were only able to offer tentative identifications after the first display, Kubat contends repetition of his photograph in the new arrays significantly increased the chance that subsequent identifications would be based solely on recognition from the earlier showing. Second, Kubat observes that the photograph of him used in the subsequent arrays, a black and white mug shot, differed from the picture in the first collection. The change in the nature of the photographs, Kubat believes, had the impermissible effect of suggesting to the witnesses that he had been arrested and was considered a suspect in the case. Finally, Kubat argues that the subsequent photographic showings should not have been conducted because after receiving tentative identifications, proper procedure dictated that a corporeal line-up, not a photo line-up, be conducted.
In certain circumstances, the possibility of a mistaken identification is increased where witnesses are shown collections of photographs in which the picture of a single individual recurs. Simmons v. United States,
However, the fact that photographs of particular individuals are the only ones common to successive photo arrays does not automatically render identification procedures unnecessarily suggestive. While repetition of any one person's photograph in a subsequent array may not be advisable, the danger of a mistaken identification is substantially reduced when different photographs are used and particularly where the second photograph differs greatly from the first. United States v. Olson,
Olson is strikingly similar to the situation in the present case. The photograph of Kubat used in the first array bears
This court also rejects Kubat's contention that a family photo rather than a mug shot should have been used in the subsequent showings to avoid suggesting to the witnesses he had been arrested. The very act of conducting a photographic line-up suggests to a witness that police have reason to believe one of the individuals shown committed the crime. The simple fact that a mug shot rather than a family photo of a particular individual is used in subsequent photographic displays does not render the showings suggestive. Cf. United States v. Love,
Similarly, the fact that a corporeal line-up could have been conducted instead of the subsequent photo showings does not necessarily render the photographic identification procedures impermissibly suggestive. Although the Illinois Supreme Court stated that as a matter of Illinois procedure, the availability of a corporeal line-up after the tentative identification of Kubat rendered the subsequent photographic showings improper, no similar rule exists under the Due Process Clause. United States v. Allison,
However, even assuming the identification procedures were unduly suggestive, the witnesses' identifications of Kubat were nonetheless reliable. The factors to be examined in determining the reliability of identification testimony are: (1) the witness' opportunity to view the criminal; (2) the witness' degree of attention; (3) the accuracy of the witness' prior description of the criminal; (4) the level of certainty the witness exhibited at the time of identification; and (5) the length of time between the crime and the showing. Manson v. Brathwaite,
Little dispute exists that the witnesses in question had an excellent opportunity to view Kubat while he was in the Back Door bar on November 2. Jesse Lopez spoke with Kubat and Ms. Quick for approximately 20 to 25 minutes at a distance of four feet. He recalled portions of the conversation and commented that Kubat reminded him of a movie star because of the dimple in his chin. Nora Lopez and Sandra Lawson also viewed Kubat and Ms. Quick for a significant portion of the 45 minutes the two spent at the Back Door. The witnesses' attention was drawn to the couple because they were strangers in a bar frequented almost exclusively by regular patrons.
As with the first two considerations, the level of certainty exhibited by the witnesses identifying Kubat favors a finding of reliability. Though the witnesses were unable to positively identify Kubat after viewing the initial array, little significance can be attached to this fact because the photograph of Kubat used in that display was blurred. Given the poor quality of Kubat's photograph, the witnesses gave the strongest indication possible under the circumstances that Kubat's photo depicted the man they saw on the day in question. The results of the subsequent showings bolster this conclusion. After viewing the black and white mug shot of Kubat contained in the later arrays, the witnesses positively identified Kubat. Although Sandra Lawson expressed concern when viewing the later array that her identification of Kubat may have resulted from seeing his picture earlier in a newspaper, these facts were disclosed to the jury and thus bore on the weight of the in-court testimony, not its admissibility. The length of time between observation and identification in this case is not insubstantial. Approximately 24 days passed between the time the witnesses observed Kubat and when they tentatively identified him. Although Jesse made a positive identification on November 29, 1979 after viewing a subsequent array, Nora Lopez and Sandra Lawson were not shown a second display until February 26, 1980. Thus, with regard to Nora Lopez and Sandra Lawson, approximately four months intervened between the incident and the identification.
The foregoing discussion indicates that three of the four factors relevant to the identifications in this case weigh favorably for a finding of reliability. Although the time elapsed between the observation and identifications in this case cannot be construed as a factor enhancing trustworthiness, the fact that four months may have passed before a positive identification was made by some of the witnesses is insufficient to render the identification testimony unreliable. Here, the witnesses had an excellent opportunity to observe Kubat, were attentive while he was in their presence, and expressed a high level of certainty that Kubat was the man they had seen. Weighing the indicia of reliability against the possible suggestiveness of the procedures employed, this court is compelled to find the identification testimony of Sandra Lawson, Jesse Lopez, and Nora Lopez reliable.
3. Effective Assistance of Counsel at Trial
Finally, Kubat attacks his conviction on the ground that he was denied effective assistance of counsel at trial. The standards applicable to a Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel are articulated in the Supreme Court's decision in Strickland v. Washington,
Kubat asserts four instances of allegedly deficient performance stemming from the guilt phase of his trial: (1) counsel's failure to call three witnesses who would have offered testimony supporting his alibi defense; (2) counsel's failure to present evidence to establish that a tire track found near the victim's body could not have been made by the tires on Kubat's car, and thus his disposal of an old set of tires after the murder did not reflect consciousness of guilt; (3) counsel's failure to impeach Ms. Quick with testimony regarding her reputation for dishonesty; and (4) counsel's failure to elicit from witnesses at the Coffee And bar that they saw a car leaving the parking lot which did not resemble Kubat's vehicle.
a. Failure to Call Alibi Witnesses
Kubat first argues that his counsel's failure to call Margie Elea, Charles Fleisig, and Francine Bejda was professionally irresponsible and severely prejudiced his defense. Margie Elea, according to her testimony during Kubat's state post-conviction hearing, stated that she was working at a Highland, Indiana gas station the evening of November 1, 1979. Ms. Elea testified that at approximately 10:30 p.m. that evening, she observed a man she later identified as Kubat enter the gas station with a young dark-haired woman in her twenties. Kubat asked Ms. Elea to call a tow truck because his car had broken down. Ms. Elea stated Kubat was driving a white station wagon. After Ms. Elea informed Kubat she had attempted to summon help, Kubat returned to his car. She stated that Kubat remained in his car when her work shift ended at 2:00 a.m. Ms. Elea also testified that she had been contacted by Kubat's attorneys and was subpoenaed to testify at Kubat's trial but was never called.
Charles Fleisig, the second alibi witness Kubat asserts should have been called, died before the post-conviction hearing was held. However, prior to his death, Mr. Fleisig executed an affidavit in which he states he was with Kubat at a Chicago tavern on November 2 at the time the abduction and murder occurred. The record indicates that prior to trial, Mr. Fleisig was interviewed by defense counsel, but efforts to find him and present him as a witness at trial were unsuccessful.
Finally, Kubat argues his girlfriend, Francine Bejda, should have been called to offer testimony on his behalf. At the post-conviction hearing, Ms. Bejda testified that she was with Kubat the evening of November 1 until about 8:00 p.m. Ms. Bejda stated she next saw Kubat the following morning sometime between 6:00 and 8:00 a.m. Ms. Bejda asserted that she and Kubat went to pick up a rent assistance check from her caseworker, Nancy Schultz, and then went to "Lil's bar" where they saw Charles Fleisig. When Lillian Tesnohlidek, the owner of the tavern, refused to cash the rent assistance check, Ms. Bejda and Kubat went to a second bar where the bartender agreed to accept the check. After leaving the second tavern a short while later, Ms. Bejda testified that she and Kubat spent the rest of the day in each other's company.
On cross-examination, Ms. Bejda admitted that at the time of Kubat's trial, she was uncertain as to the date she and Kubat did the above-described activities. She also stated she had been in close contact with Kubat's attorneys prior to trial and had helped supply names of possible defense witnesses. Ms. Bejda testified that through memory reconstruction and hypnosis or deep relaxation techniques, she had been able to arrive at the dates of November 1 and 2.
Examining counsel's decisions regarding these witnesses, this court is reminded that "strategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to
Kubat takes the position that the testimony each of the three witnesses would have offered on his behalf was "absolutely critical" to establishing his alibi defense. Therefore, Kubat argues that counsel's failure to call Ms. Elea and Ms. Bejda and inability to locate Mr. Fleisig were egregious and inexplicable errors. This court is unable to agree.
The theory of defense advanced at trial was that on November 2, Kubat was not in Kenosha with Ms. Quick, but instead spent the day with his girlfriend, Ms. Bejda, in Chicago. The alibi defense was presented primarily through the testimony of three disinterested witnesses who claim to have seen Kubat in Ms. Bejda's company on the day in question. Nancy Schultz, a caseworker with the Lyons Township General Assistance Department, testified at trial that she first met Ms. Bejda in early October 1979 when Ms. Bejda applied for rent assistance. Ms. Schultz stated that the application was approved on October 29, and three or four days later, Ms. Bejda came to the assistance office to pick up her first check. The check, which was entered into evidence, was made payable to Robert Kubat because Ms. Bejda's application listed him as her landlord. Ms. Schultz recalled that Ms. Bejda was accompanied by a man fitting Kubat's description who waited outside her office. The date on the rent assistance check was November 2, 1979.
Lillian Tesnohlidek, who owned the Starclub tavern in Chicago, testified at trial that she had been acquainted with Kubat for six or seven years and that Kubat's brothers lived in the neighborhood in which her bar was located. On November 2, at approximately 10:30 a.m., Ms. Tesnohlidek stated that Kubat and a woman entered her bar. Kubat ordered a few drinks and began a conversation with a bar patron by the name of Charles Fleisig. Kubat then gave Ms. Tesnohlidek the rent assistance check and asked if she would cash it. Ms. Tesnoholidek testified that she refused, and Kubat and the woman left shortly thereafter.
Finally, Mario Brajkovich, owner of the Lawndale lounge in Chicago, was called to testify for the defense. Mr. Brajkovich testified that Kubat, with whom he had been acquainted for some years, came into his bar on November 2 accompanied by a dark-haired woman. Although Mr. Brajkovich could not identify the lady who was with Kubat, he was familiar with Ms. Quick and was positive she was not the woman. Mr. Brajkovich stated he cashed the rent assistance check for Kubat and identified his endorsement on the back of the instrument.
The testimony of Ms. Schultz, Ms. Tesnohlidek, and Mr. Brajkovich placed Kubat in Chicago with Ms. Bejda on November 2 at the time the victim was abducted and murdered. Little doubt exists that Kubat's counsel employed the strategy of establishing Kubat's alibi through the use of neutral witnesses and documentary evidence. In light of these facts, Kubat's assertion that Ms. Elea, Ms. Bejda, and Mr. Fleisig were absolutely essential to establishing his alibi defense is without merit.
Kubat argues that Ms. Elea's testimony concerning his whereabouts on the evening of November 1 would have undercut Ms. Quick's testimony that she and Kubat had traveled to Kenosha in the early morning hours of November 2. Although this may be true, this court does not believe Kubat's counsel committed a "grevious and incomprehensible" error in choosing not to offer Ms. Elea's testimony.
Although Kubat asserts that by the very nature of his defense, Ms. Bejda's testimony was indispensable, this court also concludes that counsel's disinclination to offer her testimony was an acceptable trial strategy. As previously noted, counsel attempted to establish Kubat's alibi through the testimony of neutral witnesses. Given the magnitude of the charges Kubat faced and the nature of the relationship the two shared, counsel could have well decided her testimony may have been received unfavorably by the jury. Especially significant is the fact that at the time of trial, Ms. Bejda was uncertain about the exact date Kubat accompanied her to the public assistance office and the two Chicago taverns. Kubat's counsel could have easily concluded that her uncertainty about the date might lead the jury to believe the events to which the other alibi witnesses testified occurred on a different day. Accordingly, counsel's conscious decision to omit Ms. Bejda's testimony was reasonable trial strategy.
Finally, counsel's inability to locate Mr. Fleisig prior to submitting the case to the jury did not deny Kubat effective assistance of counsel. Kubat asserts that his attorneys acted negligently in failing to timely notify Mr. Fleisig his presence in court would be required. However, whether counsel were in fact negligent in locating the witness and whether such failure constituted professional error need not be addressed as Kubat is unable to demonstrate prejudice. Mr. Fleisig had nothing significant to add to the testimony of Ms. Tesnohlidek, the owner of the Starclub, who testified Kubat came in to cash the rent assistance check on November 2. Counsel are not ineffective for failing to present cumulative evidence. Brogdon v. Blackburn,
b. Failure to Present Tire Track Evidence
Kubat next focuses on counsel's failure to present evidence negating the inference that tire tracks found near the victim's body originated from Kubat's car. At trial, the State unsuccessfully attempted to link certain tire tracks found at the murder scene to Kubat's vehicle. The State also presented evidence that Kubat drove his car to a Goodyear dealer on November 10, and purchased five new tires. During the opening portion of the State's closing argument, no mention was made of the tire track evidence or of Kubat's tire purchases. However, during Kubat's closing argument, counsel highlighted the fact that no evidence was presented connecting Kubat's car to the tire tracks. In doing so, defense counsel made the following argument concerning Kubat's purchase of new tires: "If a man was worried about being caught with some tires and he bought new tires on November 10, would he carry them around in the back of the station wagon? On
Kubat contends that his counsel's failure to present the insurance adjuster's testimony at trial allowed the State to forcefully argue that disposal of old tires indicated consciousness of guilt. Such an omission, according to Kubat, was professionally deficient. Kubat asserts that in the absence of the consciousness of guilt argument, a reasonable likelihood existed he would have been acquitted.
This court is unable to accept Kubat's argument because irrespective of whether professional error occurred, prejudice cannot be established. As demonstrated by the State's treatment of the consciousness of guilt argument, the tire track and tire purchase evidence was not particularly compelling. The State mentioned it during closings only in response to the defense argument that the tire evidence showed nothing. More importantly, however, the State's case rested on testimony by Ms. Quick, who witnessed the crime, and several individuals who saw Kubat in Ms. Quick's company near the place and time the abduction and murder occurred. Given the weight of this evidence and the ambiguous nature of any inference which may have been drawn from the tire tracks, this court is unable to find a significant probability that but for the tire evidence, a different verdict would have been reached. As such, this court rejects Kubat's argument that his trial counsel were deficient for failing to establish that Kubat's vehicle did not make the tire tracks found near the victim's body.
c. Failure to Impeach Ms. Quick
Kubat assails the competency of his trial counsel for failing to present witnesses whose testimony would have called into serious question Ms. Quick's ability to communicate the truth. Citing the testimony of twelve witnesses called at his post-conviction hearing, Kubat argues that Ms. Quick maintained a reputation as a notorious liar and that counsel made no effort to communicate that fact to the jury. Because the State's case hinged on the truthfulness of Ms. Quick's testimony, Kubat contends that presentation of such impeachment evidence could have easily led the jury to reject her testimony and find him not guilty.
During Kubat's post-conviction proceedings, an identical argument was addressed by the Illinois Supreme Court. Rejecting the contention counsel were deficient for failing to present reputation witnesses at trial, the court reached the following conclusion:
Kubat II, 114 Ill.2d at 435, 103 Ill.Dec. at 94, 501 N.E.2d at 115. This court agrees with the Supreme Court's conclusion. Trial counsel's decision to impeach Ms. Quick's testimony without resorting to reputation witnesses was a reasonable trial strategy. As noted above, Kubat's attorneys established a variety of reasons why the jury should not credit Ms. Quick's trial testimony. The fact the jury, in spite of this evidence, chose to believe Ms. Quick does not render counsel's decision to omit reputation evidence professionally irresponsible or impermissibly prejudicial.
All of the witnesses who testified at Kubat's post-conviction hearing concerning Ms. Quick's veracity stated that they were
d. Failure to Present Evidence Concerning a Gray Sedan Seen Leaving the Scene of the Abduction
Kubat's final assertion of ineffective assistance on the part of his trial attorneys stems from counsel's alleged failure to elicit testimony from two prosecution witnesses, Dale Gonsky and Dorothy Hawley, that they observed a gray Chevrolet Monte Carlo sedan in the parking lot of the Coffee And around the time of the victim's disappearance. At the post-conviction hearing, Kenosha County Deputy Sheriff Paul Burnette testified that on the day of the abduction, Mr. Gonsky reported seeing what appeared to be a gray sedan, possibly a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in the parking lot of the Coffee And shortly before the victim disappeared. Further, the parties stipulated that if called at the post-conviction hearing, Ms. Hawley would testify that she saw a car leaving the parking lot spitting gravel, and that she subsequently picked a two-door Monte Carlo from an automobile identification manual as resembling the car she saw that day. Kubat argues this testimony was critical to the outcome of his trial because it would have raised serious doubts concerning Ms. Quick's testimony that Kubat's white station wagon was used as the getaway vehicle. As such, Kubat contends that the failure to bring out this testimony during cross-examination was deficient and prejudicial.
Analyzing Kubat's assertions, this court begins with a review of trial counsel's efforts to cross-examine Ms. Hawley and Mr. Gonsky. As earlier noted, Mr. Gonsky testified on direct examination that on November 2 at 12:30 p.m., he saw a couple sitting at the bar of the Coffee And with Mrs. Hyde bartending. When he returned to the bar from his upstairs apartment a short while later, Mr. Gonsky stated that the bar was empty and Mrs. Hyde was gone. Later that afternoon, Mr. Gonsky recalled speaking to police. On cross-examination, Mr. Gonsky was repeatedly questioned about his discussion with police concerning a car he had seen in the parking lot of the Coffee And. After substantial cross-examination, Mr. Gonsky admitted that he first told police he had observed a dark gray car parked outside the tavern.
Next, Dorothy Hawley testified that she was also in the apartment over the Coffee And that day. She too came downstairs at 12:30 p.m. and saw the victim bartending with two people sitting at the bar. On cross-examination, she admitted telling police she had seen a dark gray car departing from the Coffee And when the victim was discovered missing.
Although Kubat argues that defense counsel failed to elicit testimony concerning the sighting of a gray Monte Carlo, the record indicates counsel tried, but the witnesses equivocated regarding their earlier statements. The upshot of Kubat's argument is that counsel failed to establish testimony that witnesses saw a car dissimilar to his rapidly departing from the Coffee And at the time the victim disappeared. This is simply not true. Though the witnesses were not specifically asked about the type of vehicle they observed, defense counsel did all they could to highlight the fact that a grayish blue rather than a white car was seen leaving the scene of the abduction. Given that defense counsel's cross-examination of Ms. Hawley and Mr. Gonsky was sufficient to bring this fact to
B. Sentencing Phase
1. Jury Instruction on Lesser Included Offense
In his initial challenge to his death sentence, Kubat contends that the jury that convicted him should have received an instruction on a lesser included offense. Kubat correctly observes that the State could not have sought the death penalty in his case without first obtaining a felony conviction.
Counsel's failure to tender an instruction on the lesser included offense does not amount to ineffective assistance. As the Illinois Supreme Court observed, "such an instruction would have been inconsistent with [Kubat's] alibi defense"; thus, counsel's failure to offer the instruction "appears to have been a matter of trial strategy." Kubat I, 94 Ill.2d at 485-86, 69 Ill. Dec. at 51, 447 N.E.2d at 268. The subsequent affidavit of Arthur O'Donnell corroborates this conclusion. O'Donnell, one of Kubat's attorneys at trial, has stated that Kubat's lawyers never considered asking the judge to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense because Kubat had consistently maintained that he was not in Wisconsin at the time of the crime. Kubat's attorneys could have reasonably believed that tendering an instruction on a lesser included offense would have weakened Kubat's alibi defense. Under these circumstances, "[t]he decision not to request a lesser included offense instruction falls within the wide range of reasonable professional representation." Woratzeck v. Ricketts,
In light of this strategic decision by Kubat's counsel, the trial judge acted properly by not instructing the jury sua sponte on the lesser included offense. Kubat claims that due process required the judge to offer the instruction to the jury regardless of whether the parties had asked for it. On the contrary, no federal court has yet imposed a constitutional obligation on a trial judge to present a lesser included offense instruction that neither party has requested.
2. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel at Sentencing
Kubat also challenges his sentence on the ground that his lawyers provided ineffective legal assistance during the sentencing phase of his trial. Applying Strickland's two-prong test to counsel's performance at sentencing, this court concludes that Kubat did not receive the effective assistance of counsel to which the Sixth Amendment entitles him.
a. Deficient Performance
In the wake of Strickland v. Washington, supra, a criminal defendant cannot prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel unless he satisfies two requirements. Under Strickland's first prong, the defendant must establish that his counsel's performance was "deficient," that it "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88, 104 S.Ct. at 2064. With respect to his sentencing, Kubat easily carries this burden. As he points out, three glaring examples of defective legal representation marred his sentencing. First, Kubat's lawyers neither investigated potential mitigating evidence before trial nor presented any mitigating evidence at the sentencing hearing. Secondly, defense counsel's bizarre closing argument enhanced rather than reduced the likelihood that the jury would impose a death sentence. Finally, Kubat's attorneys failed to object when the judge erroneously instructed the jury that imposition of a sentence other than death would require unanimous juror approval.
i) Failure to Investigate or Present Mitigating Evidence
Although the constitutional inadequacy of Kubat's counsel first became evident at his sentencing, the seeds of ineffectiveness had been sown before the trial even commenced. Despite the prospect that the State might seek the death penalty for Kubat, his attorneys made little or no effort to seek out potential mitigating evidence before trial. Reasonable pre-trial investigation, however, would have uncovered a substantial amount of mitigating evidence. At Kubat's post-conviction hearing, fifteen witnesses testified as to various positive aspects of Kubat's character. This long parade of witnesses did not include members of Kubat's family, whose testimony might easily be discounted. Rather, the expansive array of post-conviction mitigating witnesses consisted of neighbors and co-workers of Kubat, well-respected citizens in their community. These people had come to befriend Kubat, held him in high esteem, and expressed genuine disbelief that he could have committed murder. If these witnesses had appeared at Kubat's sentencing, their testimony would have made an impressive case for sparing Kubat's life. All fifteen of these witnesses stated at the post-conviction hearing that if Kubat's counsel had asked them, they would have testified on Kubat's behalf at his sentencing hearing. Kubat's attorneys, however, contacted only two of the fifteen witnesses before trial.
To compound the damage done by their inadequate investigation, Kubat's lawyers
Although the complete failure of Kubat's counsel to investigate or present mitigating evidence would seem ineffective on its face, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that such conduct does not constitute ineffective assistance per se. So long as counsel pursues a reasonable alternative strategy at capital sentencing, the failure to investigate or present mitigating evidence is not constitutionally objectionable. See, e.g., Strickland, 466 U.S. at 699, 104 S.Ct. at 2070-71 (defense counsel reasonably opted to rely on sentencing judge's reputation for mercy instead of presenting mitigating evidence, which would have exposed defendant to damaging rebuttal evidence).
Despite the obvious ineptitude of defense counsel, the State attempts to portray the performance of Kubat's attorneys as reasonable under the circumstances. The State asserts that defense counsel did not offer mitigating evidence at sentencing because such evidence would have contradicted Kubat's persistent profession of innocence. Since Kubat had maintained throughout his trial that he did not kill Lydia Hyde, "it was reasonable for counsel to elect not to present evidence regarding mitigating factors which imply guilt but which attempt to excuse that culpable conduct." Funchess v. Wainwright,
Nonetheless, the State contends that the performance of defense counsel cannot be deemed ineffective because Kubat's lawyers employed a reasonable alternative strategy: an appeal to the jurors' religious beliefs in the closing argument, exhorting the jury to show compassion for Kubat. Admittedly, capital defense lawyers often resort to this tactic; and at least one court has ruled that a generic entreaty for compassion, unsupported by any individualized mitigating evidence, satisfies the constitutional standard for effective assistance. See Coleman v. Brown,
Once the jury convicted Kubat of aggravated kidnapping, thereby finding the existence of an aggravating factor, Kubat's counsel "had the burden of coming forward with evidence of mitigating factors sufficient to preclude imposition of the death penalty." People v. Olinger,
ii) Closing Argument
Even assuming that counsel's conduct amounted to a reasonable alternative strategy, the execution of that strategy fell far below acceptable standards of legal representation. All that stood between Kubat and a death sentence was his counsel's closing argument — a rambling, incoherent discourse that was more likely to confuse than to persuade the jury. In fact, counsel's "plea for mercy" (as the State has charitably characterized it) may actually have strengthened the jury's resolve to impose a death sentence. Toward the end of his closing argument, Kubat's attorney told the jurors to "decide the way you feel, Robert Kubat or Lydia Hyde." Tr. at 1711. Although its meaning is not entirely clear, this cryptic comment appears to be an invitation to the jury to compare the defendant with the victim. It was utter lunacy for defense counsel to invite such a comparison, which could only have benefited the prosecution. Thus, the closing argument only exacerbated the effect of counsel's failure to present mitigating evidence on Kubat's behalf.
iii) Failure to Object to Erroneous Jury Instruction
Unfortunately for Kubat, his counsel's incompetence did not cease at the conclusion of the closing argument. His attorneys continued to demonstrate their inadequacy during the judge's instruction of the jury. In the course of his instructions,
Without doubt, Kubat has satisfied the first Strickland requirement by establishing the deficiency of his counsel's performance at the sentencing hearing. Nonetheless, before Kubat can prevail on his claim of ineffective assistance at sentencing, Strickland also requires that he make a showing of prejudice. In order to obtain relief from this court, Kubat must demonstrate "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of [his sentencing hearing] would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694, 104 S.Ct. at 2068.
In gauging the likelihood of prejudice, the Strickland Court defined "a reasonable probability" as "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. Although it may be difficult for a defendant to establish such a probability, it is certainly not impossible, especially in a capital case. Just last year, federal judges in this state found defense counsel's multiple errors sufficiently prejudicial to justify the vacation of two death sentences. See Gaines v. Thieret,
As in Gaines and Lewis, defense counsel in Kubat's case committed a variety of errors at sentencing, which combined to create a reasonable probability of prejudice. Considering the combined effect of counsel's grievous errors, this court cannot confidently state that, in the absence of those errors, the jury would still have sentenced Kubat to death. By avoiding the errors committed at sentencing, competent legal counsel might well have obtained a different result. After all, defense counsel needed to sway only one juror in order to alter Kubat's sentence. If the available mitigating witnesses had appeared at the sentencing hearing, their testimony would have humanized Kubat in the eyes of a jury that held his fate in its hands.
Considered in tandem, the errors of defense counsel cast serious doubt on the reliability of Kubat's sentence. Thus, Kubat
3. Erroneous Jury Instruction
Even if defense counsel's errors did not amount to ineffective assistance, Kubat would still be entitled to relief from his death sentence because the trial judge wrongly instructed the jury that a sentence of imprisonment, like a sentence of death, required unanimous juror approval. When such a plain error taints a sentencing hearing, the resulting sentence cannot stand unless the State demonstrates that the error was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt." Chapman v. California,
In an effort to downplay the error's effect on Kubat's sentencing, the State urges this court not to examine the erroneous instruction in isolation, but to consider the jury instructions in their entirety. The State concedes that the jury received an inaccurate instruction, but contends that subsequent instructions — which correctly stated the law — minimized the erroneous instruction's potential for harm. For instance, shortly after giving the erroneous instruction, the judge properly instructed the jury: "If after your deliberations one or more jurors conclude that the defendant should not be sentenced to death, all jurors shall sign the verdict reflecting the jury's inability to reach a unanimous verdict." Tr. at CO 202. In addition, the verdict forms that the jury took to the jury room accurately stated that Kubat would receive a prison sentence if the jury could not unanimously agree on the appropriateness of the death penalty.
In view of the fact that the jury instructions were conflicting rather than completely erroneous, the State asserts that the conflicting instructions could not have harmed Kubat unless they created confusion among the jurors. The State then speculates that the erroneous instruction could not possibly have confused the jurors because the jury returned a verdict of death in only 63 minutes. As further support for its assertion of harmless error, the State points to the Illinois Supreme Court's finding that the erroneous instruction resulted in no fundamental unfairness.
Despite the State's reassurances, this court does not share the confidence of the state's highest court that the trial judge's
Forty years ago, Justice Frankfurter warned of the dangers inherent in characterizing an erroneous jury instruction as "harmless" merely because the jury had also received an appropriate instruction:
Bollenbach v. United States,
4. Constitutionality of the Illinois Death Penalty Statute
Finally, Kubat's petition challenges the constitutionality of the Illinois death penalty statute. Because this court has already decided to vacate Kubat's death sentence on narrower grounds, it would be inappropriate for the court to address the larger issue of the statute's constitutionality.
The parties, however, should not construe this court's abstention as an affirmation of the statute's constitutionality. Kubat's arguments raise some troublesome questions about the Illinois Death Penalty Act. For instance, the Act empowers prosecutors with wide-ranging post-conviction discretion to decide whether or not to seek the death penalty. Because the statute imposes few if any constraints on this exercise of prosecutorial discretion, it is unclear whether Illinois law adequately guards against the sort of arbitrary and capricious application of capital punishment that the Supreme Court condemned in Furman v. Georgia,
In addition, the Illinois statute may offend the constitutional prohibition against nondiscretionary capital sentencing. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized the need for an individualized sentencing determination in each particular capital case. See, e.g., Skipper v. South Carolina,
In the instant case, however, any constitutional challenge to the Illinois statute is moot; this court has already granted Kubat relief from his sentence. Thus, although Kubat has raised serious questions about the constitutionality of the Illinois death penalty statute, resolution of those questions must await another day.
Having rejected Kubat's arguments concerning the sufficiency of evidence introduced at trial, the reliability of identification testimony stemming from photographic identification procedures, and the legal assistance he received at trial, this court finds no reason to vacate Kubat's convictions. On the other hand, Kubat has advanced two compelling reasons for this court to overturn his death sentence. First, Kubat received ineffective assistance of counsel at his sentencing hearing. Second, the judge erroneously instructed the jury that a sentence other than death would require the jury's unanimous approval.
For the foregoing reasons, this court grants Kubat's petition with respect to his death sentence, but denies the petition in all other respects. This court hereby vacates Kubat's sentence of death. The State shall have 120 days from the issuance of this order to resentence Kubat.
On this court's own motion, execution of this order is stayed pending appeal by the parties.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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