Defendant was 17 years old when he was given a discretionary life sentence, is he entitled to a new sentencing hearing?
People v. Holman
Defendant was 17 when he and a buddy burglarized a home and shot and killed the 82 year old woman who lived there.
Because he was five weeks from his eighteenth birthday at the time of the offense, he was not eligible for the death penalty. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, ¶ 9-1(b). Instead, he was eligible for a discretionary life sentence. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, ¶ 1005-8-1(a)(1).
The Madison County circuit court’s probation and court services department prepared a presentence investigation report (PSI). The PSI included the defendant’s criminal history.
Defendant had a prior conviction for murder and one for attempt murder under his belt.
At age 14, he was adjudicated delinquent for burglary and placed on two years’ probation.
At age 15, he was adjudicated delinquent for three counts of criminal damage to property and committed to the Department of Corrections’ juvenile division. The defendant was paroled and then arrested for burglary three months later.
His parole was revoked, and he was returned to the Department of Corrections. The defendant was paroled again at age 17.
While he was free, Esther was murdered.
“The defendant expressed no guilt for this offense or remorse for the victim, who was an 82 year old woman who posed no physical threat to him. The defendant’s history of senseless criminal acts of mortal violence toward others and lack of remorse for his victims indicates to this officer that the defendant has no predilection for rehabilitation.”
On an intelligence test, the defendant scored in the borderline or mildly retarded range. Prost attributed some of his performance to “neurological impairment.” Other tests confirmed that and indicated a high probability of organic brain damage.
He was diagnosed as mildly mentally retarded.
The defendant’s verbal intelligence indicated that he does have capacity for making a “socially appropriate judgment.”
Given Natural Life
The appellate court noted that the defendant’s sentence was not unconstitutional under Miller because the defendant here was afforded a sentencing hearing where natural life imprisonment was not the only available sentence.
Defendant Pushing The Envelope
The defendant appealed.
Defendant was pushing the envelope and asking that the Illinois Supreme Court create a categorical ban on juvenile life sentences.
Procedurally, this is a denial of a successive postconviction that is being appealed.
The United States Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments.” U.S. Const., amend. VIII.
Inherent in that prohibition is the concept of proportionality. See Graham, 560 U.S. at 59. Criminal punishment should be “graduated and proportioned to both the offender and the offense.” Davis, 2014 IL 115595, ¶ 18 (citing Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2463, and Roper, 543 U.S. at 560). When the offender is a juvenile and the offense is serious, there is a genuine risk of disproportionate punishment.
In Roper, Graham, and Miller, the United States Supreme Court addressed that risk and unmistakably instructed that youth matters in sentencing.
Roper held that the eighth amendment prohibited capital sentences for juveniles who commit murder. Roper, 543 U.S. at 578-79.
Graham held that the eighth amendment prohibited mandatory life sentences for juveniles who commit nonhomicide offenses. Graham, 560 U.S. at 82. Roper and Graham established that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” in three important ways:
First, juveniles are more immature and irresponsible than adults.
Second, juveniles are more vulnerable to negative influences and pressures from family and peers than adults.
Third, juveniles are more malleable than adults—their characters are less fixed and their malfeasance is less indicative of irretrievable depravity.
Those differences lessen juveniles’ moral culpability and enhance their prospects for reform.
Miller held that the eighth amendment prohibited mandatory life sentences for juveniles who commit murder. Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2475. Miller does not invalidate the penalty of natural life without parole for multiple murderers, only its mandatory imposition on juveniles.
In Montgomery, the Court held that Miller applied retroactively.
The defendant in this case did not receive a mandatory life sentence but rather a discretionary life sentence.
Thus, we initially must decide whether his Miller claim is even viable.
That is, we must decide whether Miller applies to discretionary life sentences.
A minor may still be sentenced to natural life imprisonment without parole so long as the sentence is at the trial court’s discretion rather than mandatory.
The Miller court specifically noted that:
“Although we do not foreclose a sentencer’s ability to make that judgment in homicide cases, we require it to take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”
The Court reiterated that its decision “mandates only that a sentencer follow a certain process—considering an offender’s youth and attendant characteristics—before imposing a particular penalty,” life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Stated differently, a trial court must consider a juvenile’s “age and age-related characteristics and the nature of their crimes” as “mitigating circumstances.”
The greater weight of authority has concluded that Miller and Montgomery send an unequivocal message:
Life sentences, whether mandatory or discretionary, for juvenile defendants are disproportionate and violate the eighth amendment, unless the trial court considers youth and its attendant characteristics.
We agree with that conclusion and hold that Miller applies to discretionary sentences of life without parole for juvenile defendants.
What It Means To Apply Miller?
We must next decide what it means to apply Miller.
The court noted that, consideration of the Miller factors is consistent with section 5-4.5-105 of the Unified Code of Corrections, which now requires the trial court to consider factors taken from the Supreme Court’s list. See 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105 (West 2016).
Because Miller is retroactive, all juveniles, whether they were sentenced after the statutory amendment became effective on January 1, 2016, or before that, should receive the same treatment at sentencing.
A juvenile defendant may be sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, but only if the trial court determines that the defendant’s conduct showed irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption beyond the possibility of rehabilitation. The court may make that decision only after considering the defendant’s youth and its attendant characteristics. Those characteristics include, but are not limited to, the following factors:
(1) the juvenile defendant’s chronological age at the time of the offense and any evidence of his particular immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences;
(2) the juvenile defendant’s family and home environment;
(3) the juvenile defendant’s degree of participation in the homicide and any evidence of familial or peer pressures that may have affected him;
(4) the juvenile defendant’s incompetence, including his inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors and his incapacity to assist his own attorneys; and
(5) the juvenile defendant’s prospects for rehabilitation.
See Miller, 567 U.S. at ___, 132 S. Ct. at 2468.
In revisiting a juvenile defendant’s life without parole sentence, the only evidence that matters is evidence of the defendant’s youth and its attendant characteristics at the time of sentencing.
Whether such evidence exists depends upon the state of the record in each case.
The court was well aware of his age and his problems as they were covered adequately in the PSI.
The PSI and the psychological reports provided some insight into his mentality but did not depict him as immature, impetuous, or unaware of risks. The PSI included information about the defendant’s family. Although his father and his stepfather had died, he reportedly maintained a close relationship with his mother and siblings. Thus, the trial court had no evidence to consider on any of the statutory factors in mitigation, but some evidence related to the Miller factors.
The PSI alerted the trial court to the defendant’s susceptibility to peer pressure, as well as his low intelligence and possible brain damage from a head injury, but there was nothing presented at trial or sentencing to indicate that the defendant was incompetent and could not communicate with police officers or prosecutors or assist his own attorney.
The defendant’s sentence passes constitutional muster under Miller.
Finally, we note that amicus asks for a categorical ban on life sentences for juveniles. We refuse to adopt such a rule. Whether or not discretionary life sentences for juveniles are advisable is a question for legislators. Whether or not such sentences are constitutional is a question for judges, and the justices of the United States Supreme Court have so far declared that they may be, provided the trial court complies with Miller.
People v. Hoy
52 years for a 16 year old who reacted violently with a gun when he killed his buddy is not a defecato life sentence.
16-year-old defendant and his longtime friend, 17-year-old James Thomas, were in front of a three story building on Chicago’s west side.
A few days before, a friend of both boys had been shot in the neighborhood so defendant acquired a pistol that he had on him that day. As boys that age are known to do, defendant and James got into a heated verbal argument, which ordinarily would have resulted in hitting or pushing the other and both probably wrestling on the ground to the point of exhaustion, their heated passions drained away.
But for the fact that defendant had a gun, what ordinarily should have happened between these boys did not happen.
In this heated moment, with the immediate availability of a gun, defendant fatally shot James once in the stomach and twice more as James tried to crawl away. A witness heard defendant say,
“Say it again. Say it again. I’ll shoot the s**t out of you.”
James died from his injuries, and defendant is now serving a sentence of 52 years’ imprisonment for first degree murder.
Defendant contends that his sentence of 52 years’ imprisonment should be vacated and the case remanded for resentencing.
730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105(a)
First, he argues that he should be resentenced in accordance with the provisions of section 5-4.5-105 of the Unified Code of Corrections (Code) (730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105 (West 2016)), because the legislature enacted this provision while defendant’s appeal was pending.
Section 5-4.5-105 addresses additional factors the court shall consider in mitigation when sentencing a defendant who was under the age of 18 when he committed the offense. These factors include defendant’s “age, impetuosity, and level of maturity at the time of the offense”; whether defendant “was subjected to outside pressure, including peer pressure, familial pressure, or negative influences”; and defendant’s home environment, his rehabilitation potential, as well as the circumstances of the offense. 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105(a)(1)-(5).
Section 5-4.5-105(a) provides that “[o]n or after the effective date of this amendatory Act of the 99th General Assembly, when a person commits an offense and the person is under 18 years of age at the time of the commission of the offense,” the court “shall consider the following additional factors in mitigation in determining the appropriate sentence[.]” 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-105(a).
The court in Wilson determined that the plain language of the provision clearly “demonstrates the legislature’s intent that the statute apply to offenses committed after the [statute’s] effective date” of January 1, 2016. Wilson, 2016 IL App (1st) 141500, ¶ 16.
Therefore, section 5-4.5-105 could not be applied retroactively to the defendant’s case.
De Facto Life Sentence
Defendant also argues that his sentence of 52 years’ imprisonment violates the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. VIII) and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11), because his sentence essentially is a sentence of “natural life” in prison and therefore “runs afoul of the constitutional principles” set forth in Miller.
Then our supreme court in People v. Reyes, 2016 IL 119271, ¶ 9, applied the holding in Miller to a “mandatory term-of-years sentence that cannot be served in one lifetime.”
The juvenile defendant in Reyes, who was 16 years old when he committed the offense, received a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years’ imprisonment for first degree murder, plus a mandatory 25-year firearm enhancement, and 26 years for each of his two attempted murder convictions consisting of the minimum 6-year sentence for attempted murder plus a 20-year mandatory firearm enhancement.
Pursuant to statute, the defendant was required to serve his sentences consecutively; therefore, he “was sentenced to a mandatory minimum aggregate sentence of 97 years’ imprisonment” and “required to serve a minimum of 89 years” before being eligible for release.
The court held that to sentence a juvenile defendant to a mandatory term “that is the functional equivalent of life without the possibility of parole,” without consideration of the mitigating factors of youth set forth in Miller, “constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment.”
Defendant here, who was also 16 years old when he committed the offense, was sentenced to 52 years’ imprisonment which included a 25-year mandatory firearm enhancement.
The minimum sentence he could have received was 45 years’ imprisonment.
Although the trial court determined that a sentence above the minimum was required, it did not believe “that natural life is the appropriate sentence in this case.” Even if defendant served 100% of his sentence, he would be released at 68 years old.
Although defendant’s age upon release would fall toward the end of his lifespan, this sentence is survivable and thus cannot be considered “the functional equivalent of life without the possibility of parole.”
We find that defendant’s sentence complies with the requirements set forth for constitutionality in Miller, Montgomery, and Reyes.
People v. Evans
45 actual years is not a de facto life sentence.
In 1996, then-17-year-old Angelo Evans was tried and convicted of attempted first degree murder and aggravated criminal sexual assault.
The State alleged that Evans had sexually assaulted a family friend, K.R., then tried to kill K.R. by stabbing her multiple times and setting her head on fire.
At sentencing, the trial court was presented with several reports detailing Evans’s tragic family history and mental health issues, and Evans’s counsel argued for leniency in sentencing.
The trial court, however, found that no mitigating factors applied, describing Evans’s conduct as “shockingly evil.”
The trial court sentenced Evans to an extended term of 60 years for the attempted murder and 30 years for the aggravated criminal sexual assault to run consecutively.
Perhaps inevitably, the next flood of cases to reach our appellate courts concerned what constitutes a “mandatory, de facto life-without-parole” sentence, as does Evans’s appeal.
So far, neither the United States nor Illinois Supreme Courts has held that sentencing courts need to hear or consider the mitigating factors of youth if the sentence is less than death, mandatory life without parole, or mandatory “de facto” life without parole.
Evans is luckier; he committed his crimes under different sentencing statutes and is eligible for day-for-day good conduct credit against his sentence.
This sentencing scheme means that he could be released after serving only 45 years of his sentence, at age 62.
This alone takes Evans out of the Miller category, since he is not serving a sentence without the possibility of parole.
Prison Is Harsh
Evans acknowledges that he might not serve all 90 years but still argues that a 45-year sentence is de facto life because he is unlikely to survive it.
Prison life is undoubtedly harsh.
But Evans invites us into the weeds of actuarial tables, asking us to make a legal determination of his likely lifespan.
We are in a poor position to make this prediction and decline to do so.
It is one thing to say with some certainty, as the Reyes court did, that a defendant will not survive until release at age 105. It is quite another to overturn Evans’s sentence based on assumptions and speculation that he will not survive to age 62.
Evans’s potential 45-year sentence is not as long as other de facto life sentences. Since Evans is not serving a de facto life sentence, the new protections elucidated by Miller and its progeny do not apply to him.
- Episode 281 – Two Youthful Offenders Two Different Sentences
- Episode 235 – People v. Reyes – September 206 – Illinois Supreme Court Recognizes De Facto Life Sentences for Juveniles as Unconstitutional