A recent Illinois appellate case involved first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm conviction. The case arose when the defendant fatally shot one victim and tried to kill the other. He was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery with firearm, and attempted murder. Before trial, the prosecution filed two motions to admit evidence of other crimes by the defendant. One involved the defendant shooting someone in the back.
The other motion said that the defendant had talked about a pending murder case with his cellmate, and the defendant approached the cellmate with a list of witnesses, asking the cellmate to take care of them. The cellmate thought this meant the defendant wanted them killed, and he gave the list to the sheriff. The investigator assigned an officer to pretend to be a hit-man and taped a phone call in which the defendant asked the undercover officer to come to the jail, where he asked the undercover officer to get rid of the witnesses. The prosecution wanted to use evidence of these events to show the defendant was conscious of his guilt.
The trial court found that the evidence related to the shooting of a bicyclist in the back was admissible to prove identity. It also held that the evidence of soliciting murder could be admitted to prove consciousness of guilt. The bicyclist testified that he’d known the defendant for three years at the time he was shot in the back.
The surviving victim in the current case testified that the defendant had pointed a gun at him and the other victim while they were walking home. He began running one way, and the other victim ran the other way. He heard gunshots, and something hit him in the buttocks. He fell in pain and tried to run again but got sleepy. He lay down in the street and heard more gunshots and the other victim calling to him before he passed out. He was taken to the hospital and had two surgeries.
The prosecution presented multiple witnesses, while the defendant didn’t present any evidence. The jury found the defendant guilty on all three counts. At sentencing, the defendant’s attorney argued for these mitigating factors: that he was a juvenile with a history of mental illness and a history of substance abuse, that his father had been in jail for much of his life, and that he could be rehabilitated. The defense attorney asked the trial court to provide a minimum sentence due to these factors.
The defendant also told the court he hadn’t shot the surviving victim, stating that someone else did. The judge stated that even if the defendant didn’t have a good upbringing, it didn’t justify murder, and the only thing he found mitigating was that the defendant was only 16 at the time of the events.
The defendant was sentenced to 100 years in prison, which consisted of consecutive terms of 55 years for first-degree murder and 45 years for attempted murder. He appealed, arguing that he’d gotten a de facto life sentence without the judge considering mitigating circumstances and that the sentencing statutes and section 5-130(1) of the Illinois Juvenile Court Act were unconstitutional. He asked for a new sentencing hearing.
The defendant argued that the laws that mandated consecutive prison terms and enhancements for the use of firearms violated the Eighth Amendment and the Proportionate Penalties Clause. He argued that the automatic transfer provision, which automatically transferred teens charged with first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm to adult court subjected them to mandatory adult sentencing, which also violated these constitutional provisions and due process. He argued the trial court had to consider certain factors under a newly enacted law, section 5-4.5-105 of the Code, which gave the trial court discretion to impose firearm enhancements for those under 18.
The appellate court explained that the statutory minimum term was 71 years. It reasoned that a sentencing scheme that requires life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for a juvenile offender is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment. Recognizing that someone is a minor is the most important aspect of fashioning the right sentence.
The appellate court explained that even though the statutorily mandated minimum sentence was 71 years, the trial court had sentenced him to an aggregate of 100 years, of which the defendant was required to serve 93.25 years. This sentence was improper because there was no meaningful consideration of the defendant’s youth and other mitigating factors. The appellate court sent the case back for re-sentencing.
Murder charges are extremely serious. Each case is different, and an experienced lawyer can make sure you present a strong defense. James Dimeas is an award-winning Chicago criminal defense lawyer and author with more than 24 years of experience. If you are charged with murder or attempted murder in Illinois, contact me in Cook County (312-229-5500), DuPage County, Kane County (630-504-2096), or Lake County (847-696-6458) for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal options.
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