Does a Claim of Actual Innocence Excuse a Defendant from Satisfying the Cause-And-Prejudice Test ?

In People v. Ortiz, No. 107363, 235 Ill. 2d 319, 919 N.E.2d 941 (November 19, 2009), the defendant alleged actual innocence in each of three successive postconviction petitions. In his third successive postconviction petition, the defendant based his claim on testimony provided in his second postconviction petition as well as newly discovered evidence from two affidavits provided by additional, recently discovered eyewitnesses. The trial court found that the repeated testimony was barred under the doctrine of res judicata, but held a third-stage hearing on the allegedly newly discovered eyewitness testimony. One witness testified at the hearing that he was scared to talk to the police initially because of repercussions from his gang and that he moved to Wisconsin soon after the shooting. Over 10 years later he finally provided testimony in his affidavit to assuage his guilt and "get it off his chest." He testified that he knew the defendant as another member of his gang and did not see the defendant the night of the shooting. He also testified that he saw other members of their gang initially beat the victim and later chase and shoot at the victim. Ortiz, 2009 Ill. The trial court considered the testimony and found it insufficient to warrant a new trial as two eyewitnesses at trial identified the defendant as the shooter. The trial court opined that the newly discovered evidence was cumulative and, at trial, the eyewitnesses were determined credible and therefore the defendant did not satisfy the cause-and-prejudice test to advance his successive petition. On appeal, this court reversed, finding that the defendant set forth a claim of actual innocence and, consistent with People v. Pitsonbarger, 205 Ill. 2d 444, 459, 793 N.E.2d 609, 275 Ill. Dec. 838 (2002), was excused from satisfying the cause-and-prejudice test. People v. Ortiz, 385 Ill. App. 3d 1, 10-13, 896 N.E.2d 791, 324 Ill. Dec. 715 (2008).