People v. Coty, 2018 IL App (1st) 162383 (August). Episode 525 (Duration 7:56)
Defendant had an IQ between 55 and 65, his 50 year sentence was a life sentence, and he needs a new sentencing hearing.
Defendant has an IQ of between 55 and 65. He was mildly intellectually disabled and convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault. But also considered to be at the “extremely low” range of intelligence. He had a prior criminal sexual assault in his past.
He originally was sentenced to life in prison. After appeal it was remanded for resentencing and he then got 50 years.
On this appeal, the defendant asserts that the trial court abused its discretion in sentencing him to a 50-year extended term sentence, without properly considering that it was, in fact, imposing a de facto life sentence on a defendant with intellectual disabilities.
Second, the defendant contends that the imposition of this de facto life sentence is unconstitutional as applied to him both under the eighth amendment and the proportionate penalties clause.
For the reasons that follow, we agree with the latter contention. As shall be fully discussed below, we find that the trial court on remand imposed a discretionary de facto life sentence without a record sufficient to assess the unique factors that can impact the culpability of the intellectually disabled. We hold that this procedure resulted in constitutional error.
The Illinois Constitution states that “[a]ll penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.” Ill. Const. 1970, art I., § 11.
“[T]he framers [of the Illinois Constitution] intended *** to provide a limitation on penalties beyond those afforded by the eighth amendment.” People v. Gipson, 2015 IL App (1st) 122451, ¶ 69; People v. Harris, 2016 IL App (1st) 141744, ¶ 40. And our supreme court has held that it is inaccurate to state that these two constitutional provisions are synonymous, although the relationship between them is certainly unclear.
Nevertheless, our supreme court has never shied from applying eighth amendment precedent to decide proportionate penalties cases, and we see no reason why we should not do the same here.
Proportionate Penalties Claim
To succeed on a proportionate penalties claim, the defendant here must show either
(1) that the punishment for the offense is cruel, degrading, or so wholly disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community or
(2) that similar offenses are compared and the conduct that creates a less serious threat to the public health and safety is punished more harshly.
People v. Klepper, 234 Ill. 2d 337, 348-49 (2009); see also Leon Miller, 202 Ill. 2d at 338.
Our supreme court has repeatedly refused to define what kind of punishment qualifies as cruel, degrading, or so wholly disproportionate to the offense as to shock the moral sense of the community, because “as our society evolves, so too do our concepts of elemental decency and fairness which shape the ‘moral sense’ of the community.” Leon Miller, 202 Ill. 2d at 339 (citing Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958) (whether a punishment shocks the moral sense of the community is based upon an “evolving standard[ ] of decency that mark[s] the progress of a maturing society”)).
It All Began With The Intellectually Disabled
At the time we decided Coty II, that standard had evolved to prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on juveniles and intellectually disabled offenders, as well as to condemn the imposition of mandatory natural life imprisonment on juveniles. See id. ¶ 63 (citing Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48, 68 (2010), Roper v. Simmons, 543 U.S. 551, 569-70 (2005), Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 488-89 (2012), and Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321 (2002)).
Accordingly, in Coty II, we held that the statutory provision under which the defendant had been sentenced to mandatory natural life imprisonment, without the trial court having any discretion, was disproportionate as applied to him, so as to shock the moral sense of our community. Id. ¶ ¶ 64-69 (citing Leon Miller, 202 Ill. 2d at 339-42). ¶ 63
Community Standards Of Decency Have Evolved
Since our decision in Coty II, our community’s standards of decency have considerably evolved, albeit in the context of juvenile defendants and the eighth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. VIII). First, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, 577 U.S. ___, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), the United States Supreme Court held that state courts must give Miller effect in collateral proceedings and that, under Miller, life imprisonment without parole is unconstitutional for juvenile offenders “whose crimes reflect the transient immaturity of youth” “for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility.” Id. at ___, 136 S. Ct. at 734.
Roper held that the eighth amendment prohibited death penalty 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.
Miller held that the eighth amendment prohibited mandatory life sentences for juveniles who commit murder. Miller, 567 U.S. at 489-90.
Juveniles Are Different
All three decisions recognized the following general difference between juveniles and adults, which render juveniles less morally reprehensible:
(1) lack of maturity and underdeveloped sense of responsibility;
(2) vulnerability and susceptibility to negative influences and outside pressures; and
(3) a yet unfully formed character, which makes them more malleable and their malfeasance less indicative of irretrievable depravity.
Graham, 560 U.S. at 68; Roper, 543 U.S. at 569-70.
In Miller, the Supreme Court further held that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentencing” and that a trial court must therefore be able to consider mitigating factors in determining whether to impose a natural life sentence. Miller, 567 U.S. at 471.
Then Came DeFacto Life Sentences
Next, in People v. Reyes, 2016 IL 119271, ¶ 9, our supreme court interpreted the holding of Miller to apply to de facto as much as de jure life sentences.
Noting that Miller’s “holding required that life-without-parole sentences be based on judicial discretion rather than statutory mandates” (id. ¶ 4), our supreme court held:
“A mandatory term-of-years sentence that cannot be served in one lifetime has the same practical effect on a juvenile defendant’s life as would an actual mandatory sentence of life without parole—in either situation, the juvenile will die in prison. Miller makes clear that a juvenile may not be sentenced to a mandatory, unsurvivable prison term without first considering in mitigation his youth, immaturity, and potential for rehabilitation.” Id. ¶ 9.
In addition our supreme court held: “ ‘[T]he teachings of the Roper/Graham/Miller trilogy require sentencing courts to provide an individualized sentencing hearing to weigh the factors for determining a juvenile’s “diminished culpability ***[”] when, as here, the aggregate sentences result in the functional equivalent of life without parole. To do otherwise would be to ignore the reality that lengthy aggregate sentences have the effect of mandating that a juvenile “die in prison even if a judge or jury would have thought that his youth and its attendant characteristics, along with the nature of his crime, made a lesser sentence *** more appropriate.”
All This Applies To Discretionary Life Sentences As Well
Subsequently, in People v. Holman, 2017 IL 120655, our supreme court interpreted Miller to apply to discretionary, as much as mandatory, natural life sentences.
Accordingly, as of today, our community’s standards of decency appear to have evolved to prohibit the imposition of de jure and de facto mandatory and discretionary life sentences for juveniles, where procedurally the court fails to consider the attendant characteristics of youth. See Reyes, 2016 IL 119271, ¶ 9; Holman, 2017 IL 120655, ¶ 46; Buffer, 2017 IL App (1st) 142931, ¶¶ 62-63.
We’ve Come Full Circle
In the midst of significant juvenile jurisprudence, however, one must not forget that such jurisprudence began with Atkins and the Court’s concern with the intellectually disabled. See Miller, 567 U.S. at 483-84, 509 (citing Atkins, 536 U.S. at 316, 342).
In Coty II, we already held that under Atkins adults with intellectual disabilities deserve special treatment in a proportionality analysis (see Coty II, 2014 IL App (1st) 121799-U, ¶¶ 61-75). In doing so, we only implied that adults with intellectual disabilities should be treated similarly to minors.
The Intellectually Disabled Are Different
Intellectually disabled individuals, just like juveniles, are less culpable, where the deficiencies associated with intellectual disability “diminish their personal culpability.” Atkins, 536 U.S. at 318. Indeed, “clinical definitions of [intellectual disability] require not only subaverage intellectual functioning, but also significant limitations in adaptive skills such as communication, self-care, and self-direction that became manifest before age 18.” Id.; see also 730 ILCS 5/5-1-13 (West 2014) (defining intellectual disability as “sub-average general intellectual functioning generally originating during the developmental period and associated with impairment in adaptive behavior reflected in delayed maturation or reduced learning ability or inadequate social adjustment”).
Those attendant characteristics include, but are not limited to:
An intellectually disabled person has a diminished capacity to understand and process information.
Intellectually disabled person has a lesser ability to communicate.
Mistakes & Experience
Some individuals won’t be able to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience.
Intellectually disabled persons “frequently know the difference between right and wrong and are competent to stand trial,” but “by definition[,] they have diminished capacities to understand and process information, to communicate, to abstract from mistakes and learn from experience, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand others’ reactions.” Atkins, 536 U.S. at 318.
Manipulation & Pressure
Additionally, they are unable to understand others’ actions and reactions, so as to be more susceptible to manipulation and pressure.
Quick To Confess
Additional risks accompanying the unique characteristics of the intellectually disabled are the possibility that they will unwittingly confess to crimes they did not commit, their lesser ability to give their counsel meaningful assistance, and the fact that they are “typically poor witnesses, and their demeanor may create an unwarranted impression of lack of remorse for their crimes.”
Act On Impulse
In addition, “there is abundant evidence that they often act on impulse rather than pursuant to a premeditated plan, and *** are followers rather than leaders.” Similarly, with respect to deterrence, the same cognitive and behavioral impairments that make intellectually disabled individuals less morally culpable make it less likely that they can process the fact that their behavior exposes them to severe punishment.
Deterrence Has No Effect
Simply put, an intellectually disabled defendant is far less likely than an average adult to understand the permanence of life in prison, let alone weigh the consequences of such a life against the perceived benefit of criminal conduct. As such, just as with minors, it is less likely that the possibility of facing such an extreme sanction will deter an intellectually disabled person from committing a crime.
Accordingly, since we hold today that minors and adults with intellectual disabilities should be treated similarly in a proportionality analysis, we see no reason why, under our community’s evolving standards of decency, the prohibition against the imposition of discretionary de facto life sentences without the procedural safeguards of Miller and its progeny should not be extended to intellectually disabled persons where the record shows that the trial court did not take into account those characteristics accompanying an intellectual disability as articulated in Atkins, so as to show “irretrievable depravity, permanent incorrigibility, or irreparable corruption beyond the possibility of rehabilitation.” Holman, 2017 IL 120655, ¶ 46.
We find that the procedural safeguards originating with Atkins, and created by Miller and its progeny are applicable to intellectually disabled defendants under our constitution.
It’s A De Facto Life Sentence
With time served, the defendant’s earliest release (parole) date will be when he will be 84 years old. The defendant’s actual discharge date is set for 2052, at which point he will be 88.
As shall be explained further below, under our prior holdings, and contrary to the State’s assertion, there can be no doubt that this sentence is equivalent to condemning the defendant to natural life imprisonment. This exact panel has previously held that a 50-year sentence imposed on a 16-year old juvenile was a de facto life sentence. Buffer, 2017 IL App (1st) 142931, ¶ 62.
Applying the rationale of Buffer and Sanders to the facts of this case, we are compelled to conclude that the intellectually disabled defendant, whose average life expectancy is at best 64 but who will not be released until he is at least 84, has similarly been condemned to spend the rest of his days in prison. This “unsurvivable” sentence is equivalent to natural life imprisonment, a sentence which the original sentencing judge, who presided over the trial, heard all the evidence, and viewed all the witnesses, believed was inappropriate.
We are compelled to conclude that the imposition of a 50-year de facto life sentence on this particular defendant, without the procedural safeguards of Atkins, Miller, and its progeny, was a penalty so wholly disproportionate that it violated the moral sense of our community.
Accordingly, we find the sentence unconstitutional under the proportionate penalties clause (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11). ¶ 87 We therefore vacate the defendant’s sentence and remand for a new sentencing hearing before a different judge. On remand, we urge the public defender to have the defendant’s mental health evaluated and to provide the court with as much information as possible as to the defendant’s behavior and progress, or lack thereof, while in prison.
We also instruct the trial court on remand to give serious consideration to the attendant characteristics of the defendant’s intellectual disability and the fact that this disability “diminish[es] both [his] culpability and the need for retribution” particularly in the context of this, a nonhomicide offense.
On The Double
Furthermore, because the defendant has already spent nearly 15 years in prison and this is the second time we are vacating his sentence, we instruct the trial court to act with the utmost expediency.
For all of the aforementioned reasons, we vacate the defendant’s sentence and reverse and remand for a new sentencing hearing, with instructions.