Court reluctantly gives life sentence to a repeat drug offender. It gave the court “no pleasure” to sentence defendant to a life sentence, the harshest penalty under the Illinois law.
The appellate court also recognized the harshness of the sentence but was compelled to uphold defendant’s sentence. See more Illinois sentencing issues here.
People v. Fernandez, 2014 IL App (1st) 120508 (July).
The deal was for 3 kilograms of cocaine for $31,500 per kilogram. Defendant called the undercover to tell him he only had one kilogram. The deal went down in restaurant parking lot. The detective gave defendant the cash and he delivered the cocaine. He was quickly arrested.
Ordinarily selling over a 1,000 grams of cocaine is punishable from between 15 and 60 years in prison, pursuant to 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(2)(D).
In this case, the Habitual Criminal Act (720 ILCS 5/5-4.5-95(a)) required a life sentence because defendant had two prior class X drug convictions.
The Habitual Criminal Act
The Habitual Criminal Act says that:
“Every person who has been twice convicted in any state or federal court of an offense that contains the same elements as an offense now *** classified in Illinois as a Class X felony *** and who is thereafter convicted of a Class X felony *** committed after the 2 prior convictions, shall be adjudged an habitual criminal.”
“Except when the death penalty is imposed, anyone adjudged an habitual criminal shall be sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment.”
Prior Conviction Issue
Defendant challenged his federal 1999 drug conviction as not being a class X under Illinois law. His 1992 was an Illinois conviction for another class X deliver to an undercover officer.
The 99’ case involved 800 grams of heroin that were taped to his stomach as he exited a train from New York to Chicago.
The Equivalent Illinois Law
Under Illinois law, a drug offense is a Class X felony only where the State proves beyond
a reasonable doubt that the defendant possessed a certain type of substance (e.g., heroin, peyote, or amphetamine) and certain amount of that substance (e.g., 15 grams of heroin, 200 grams of peyote, or 200 grams of amphetamine). 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(1)(A), (a)(4), (a)(6).
In Illinois, when a defendant is subject to Class X sentencing for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, the drug type and amount are elements of the offense.
The Federal Drug Law
The type and quantity of narcotics in the federal law are elements of the offense There are sentencing issues.
According to defendant, his 1999 federal drug conviction would be equivalent to a Class 3 felony in Illinois. Thus, he does not have the requisite class X convictions and does n0t qualify as a habitual criminal.
Illinois courts have rejected a formalistic interpretation of the Act. Nice try, but no. Defendant’s federal drug case, had it been tried under Illinois law, would have been a Class X felony under 720 ILCS 570/401(a)(1)(C).
The legislature intended to include federal drug offenses as qualifying offenses under the Act so long as they would qualify as Class X offenses if tried under Illinois law. It is the underlying conduct that governs not the exact language of the federal statute.
Sixth Amendment Aprendi Problem
There could be a Sixth Amendment problem under Aprendi if a court looked to facts at sentencing that were never proved beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury.
But this issue was forfeited by defendant by stipulating to the facts of that case and not objecting at his sentencing.
Is the Habitual Criminal Act Constitutional?
Finally, Defendant’s sentence does not run afoul of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.
Narcotics trafficking imposes significant damage on society. In each of defendant’s cases, he was convicted of distributing or intending to distribute large quantities of either cocaine or heroin. Defendant’s offenses cannot be seen as victimless or minor crimes. Rather, they exemplify the type of “hard drug sales” the legislature intended to punish under the Act.
The United States Supreme Court’s jurisprudence also supports the conclusion that defendant’s sentence is not wholly disproportionate to his offense.
In light of the quantities of narcotics in each case, defendant has shown that he poses a significant risk to the community. Defendant’s continual involvement in selling large quantities of narcotics, even following two prior convictions and sentences, diminishes the likelihood that he will rehabilitate.
The court held that defendant’s sentence of mandatory natural life without the possibility of parole does not violate the proportionate penalties clause.