People v. Rodriguez, 2018 IL App (1st) 160030 (September). Episode 457 (Duration 6:24)
Can defendant combine a sentence from an earlier crime with the sentence of a new crime to claim a de facto life sentence?
Defendant, who was 15 years old at the time of the offense, was tried as an adult and convicted by a jury of first degree murder in connection with the drive-by shooting of 18 year-old victim.
Additionally, the jury found that defendant personally discharged the firearm that proximately caused Vasquez’s death. Defendant was sentenced to 45 years with the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC), which was the mandatory minimum sentence he could have received and which included a 25-year enhancement for personally discharging the firearm.
The trial court observed that defendant’s 45-year sentence in the case at bar was required to run consecutively to a prior sentence. The 45-year sentence was the mandatory minimum sentence he could have received, and it included a 25-year mandatory enhancement for personally discharging a firearm. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(a).
Prior to the disposition of the first degree murder charge Defendant was sentenced in an unrelated case to 20 years for attempted first degree murder. Defendant claims that, as a result, he will not be released until he is 83 years old.
Additional Illinois sentencing cases can be found here.
He is 15 when he commits murder. Then he commits attempted murder in an unrelated offense. He is sentenced to 20 years for the attempt first. Then they finally get around to sentencing him to the 45 for the murder he committed as a juvenile.
On appeal defendant says his case should be remanded for resentencing because de facto life imprisonment, imposed against a juvenile offender as the result of mandatory sentencing laws, violates the eighth amendment and the proportionate penalties clause.
They Are Looking At His Age When Released
The court was aware of cases saying 45 years is a de facto life sentence.
However, we do not base our holding on these cases. The sentence in this case became a de facto life imprisonment because defendant will be 80 years old when he is released because he must serve 100% of the 45-year sentence (see 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2)(i)) and 85% of the 20-year sentence (see 730 ILCS 5/3-6-3(a)(2)(ii)).
The 20-year sentence served at 85% is 17 years.
Seventeen years, plus forty-five years for the murder sentence is sixty-two years. However, at sentencing, defendant received a credit for time served of just over four years. Sixty-two years minus four years meant that he had fifty-eight years more to serve at the time of sentencing. At the time of sentencing, defendant was 22 years old.
Fifty-eight years more to serve for a twenty-two-year old means that he will not be released before age eighty.
Are You Including The 20 Years?
In making this determination, we are including the 20-year sentence in our analysis even though we can find no other case that used two unrelated sentences in computing what the courts consider a de facto life sentence.
We do this to keep with the intentions of the United States and Illinois Supreme Court decisions where the motivation is to somehow save the lives of our youth who commit violent crimes before reaching maturity with the hope that after they reach maturity they will mend the errors in their ways and become useful citizens in the future.
At the 2006 sentencing in this case, the trial court observed that defendant’s 45-year mandatory sentence in the case at bar had to run consecutively to his prior 20-year sentence. 730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(a)(i). The result was de facto life imprisonment, with a release date when defendant will be over 75 years old. See People v. Coty, 2018 IL App (1st) 162383, ¶ 79 (given that the juvenile defendant will not be released until he is at least 84 years old, “this sentence is equivalent to condemning the defendant to natural life imprisonment”).
Crimes Were Unrelated But The Results The Same
Defendant’s de facto life sentence was the result of mandatory sentencing laws.
At the moment of sentencing in this case, the trial court had no discretion but to enter a sentence that resulted in de facto life imprisonment of defendant. Since defendant was never going to see the light of day, entering a higher sentence would be pointless and does not demonstrate the exercise of any real discretion.
Although defendant’s offenses were not part of a single course of conduct, as they were in Reyes, the effect was still the same in that mandatory laws robbed the sentencing court of any actual discretion. See Reyes, 2016 IL 119271, ¶ 10; see also Nieto, 2016 IL App (1st) 121604, ¶ 42. At the moment of sentencing, the court had no choice but to impose de facto life-without-parole incarceration.
Doesn’t Matter One Crime Was Committed When He Was An Adult
A sentencing court must be free to consider the age and maturity of the offender when he committed the crime, the total amount of time he will serve, and his age at release.
Thus, we find unpersuasive the State’s argument that, in order for this court to find that Miller applies, the offenses must have been committed in a single course of conduct. We acknowledge that this is an issue that the United States Supreme Court has yet to resolve.
Calling Out The Court
We wrote in Jackson that if we were “going to hold that” every “de facto life sentence,” whether mandatory or discretionary, “qualifies for consideration under Miller, then we would need a consistent and uniform policy on what constitutes a de facto life sentence.” Jackson, 2016 IL App (1st) 143025, ¶ 57.
We hoped that “a different forum,” i.e., our supreme court, would hopefully provide that guidance shortly.
However, until that happens, the question is properly before us, and our supreme court may be waiting to hear what its appellate courts have to say first, in order to consider our collective wisdom before making its decision.
In conclusion, we vacate defendant’s sentence and remand for resentencing under the sentencing scheme found in section 5-4.5-105 of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105), as our supreme court did in Reyes. As our supreme court observed, under “this new sentencing scheme, the circuit court will have the discretion not to apply the firearm sentencing enhancements.”
Thus, the trial court will have the discretion to impose, or to not impose, the enhancement.
There Is A Strong Dissent
The majority finds that defendant’s sentence for the murder he committed when he was a juvenile, combined with the sentence he received for a crime committed as an adult triggers the protections of the new juvenile sentencing guidelines prohibiting a de facto sentence of natural life. A consecutive sentence under both the Juvenile Court Act and the adult criminal sentencing statutes, as in this case, does not create a de facto life sentence subject to reversal under the protections given to juveniles pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105.
There is no case that holds this, and there is no statute that supports the majority’s holding. Therefore, I respectfully dissent.
Plus on top of that there are plenty of cases holding that a 45 year sentence is not a de facto life sentence.
The unique question posed by this appeal is: does this combination of a sentence for an offense committed as a juvenile and a sentence for an offense committed as an adult warrant remand for the trial court to consider all of the mitigation required under the new juvenile sentencing provisions, and to allow the trial court discretion in determining whether to assess to additional firearm enhancement. I maintain that it does not.
If the court had sentenced defendant to a term of imprisonment of 65 years solely for his juvenile offense, I would concur with the majority’s holding. However, that is not what happened in this case, and the majority’s attempt to conflate defendants’ two sentences in order to find them unconstitutional is contrary to our well-established precedent.
The majority’s decision to grant defendant juvenile protections for a crime committed as an adult where he was sentenced as an adult affords defendant protections that are not contemplated by the statute or by Illinois precedent. For the reasons stated, it is my opinion that defendant cannot avail himself of the sentencing protection of the new juvenile sentencing provisions because he was not a juvenile when he committed the attempted murder offense, and I would affirm the trial court’s judgment.