Lawyer's Obligation to Obtain Affidavits from Witnesses and Present a Petitioner's Claims In Appropriate Legal Form

In People v. Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d 227, 609 N.E.2d 304, 182 Ill. Dec. 1 (1993), the trial court dismissed an amended postconviction petition because it was not supported by affidavits, records, or other evidence, as required by the Act. Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d at 239-40. Johnson's postconviction counsel admitted that he made no effort to obtain affidavits from witnesses the defendant had identified in his pro se petition or to investigate claims raised in the pro se petition. Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d at 241. The defendant in Johnson asserted two different arguments on appeal. First, the defendant claimed that his postconviction counsel had an obligation to attempt to obtain affidavits from the witnesses whom defendant had identified and to attach them to the petition. Our supreme court agreed, stating that postconviction counsel is required under Rule 651(c) to shape the defendant's complaint into appropriate legal form to present to the court. The supreme court reasoned that because the postconviction statute requires that supporting documentation accompany a postconviction petition, postconviction counsel had an obligation under Rule 651(c) to attempt to obtain affidavits from the witnesses identified in the pro se petition, for the purpose of shaping the petition into appropriate legal form. Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d at 237-38. The defendant's second argument in Johnson was that his postconviction counsel should have conducted an investigation to find additional mitigating witnesses, including previous neighbors, coworkers, and friends, who could have testified at his sentencing hearing. The supreme court rejected this claim, finding that, "while post-conviction counsel has an obligation to present a petitioner's claims in appropriate legal form, he is under no obligation to actively search for sources outside the record that might support general claims raised in a post-conviction petition." Johnson, 154 Ill. 2d at 247.