Articles Posted in Eighth Amendment Protection

The Illinois Supreme Court has held that sentencing a juvenile to a prison sentence of greater than 40 years violates his or her Eighth Amendment rights because it imposes a de facto life sentence.

The defendant in this case was a juvenile at the time of the offense. The juvenile was convicted of four counts of first-degree murder and discharging a firearm, which caused the victim’s death. The trial court merged the first-degree murder counts and sentenced the juvenile defendant to 25 years on the first-degree murder charges and 25 years for the mandatory firearm add-on.

The juvenile filed a pro se petition for post conviction relief, alleging that the sentence was unconstitutional and violated the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Miller v. Alabama, which stated that imposing a mandatory life sentence on a juvenile without consideration of the defendant’s youth and attendant characteristics violated the Eighth Amendment because it constituted a de facto life sentence that amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

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After much deliberation, two years ago Illinois lawmakers crafted a more lenient law for the transferring of juveniles to adult courts for some serious crimes. The idea was to give judges the clear opportunity to judge or to use their discretion for juveniles charged with serious crimes who were  16 years of age rather than to simply automatically transfer these juveniles to the adult court system. The new amendment increased the mandatory transfer age from 15 to 16 for crimes such as first-degree murder and aggravated sexual assault.

Ronald Patterson, a juvenile, was just 15 years old when he was arrested for allegedly committing rape.  He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to 36 years in prison in an adult court after he was automatically transferred there. The issue now is whether the new law on automatic transfers, part of the Juvenile Court Act, should be applied to juveniles retrospectively. The new law and the applicable age change would have made a significant difference had the law been applied back in 2014. Should Patterson be allowed to be re-sentenced under the current law?

The nine-page Illinois Appellate Court opinion written by Justice P. Scott Neville stated that in applying the Statute on Statutes, that unless the legislature specifically says the amended provision does not apply retroactively, it generally should apply in such fashion.

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On Sept. 27, 2011, Darius Young, who was 15 at the time, participated in a dice game on a Chicago street with several individuals. One of them, Daniel Glen, who was in a wheelchair, won all of Young’s money during the game; however, he began to suspect that another individual, Jonathan Harris, was trying to cheat him.

When Glen rolled the wheelchair into an alley “to relieve himself,” he claimed that Harris approached him holding a 9 mm handgun and demanded money. Glen stated that Harris put the gun to his back and directed Young to search him for the money he lost. Young grabbed the money from Glen’s pocket, and he and Glen “tussled,” according to his trial testimony, knocking Glen out of his wheelchair. Glen testified that Young and Harris fled, but returned a few minutes later.

Young then put Glen back in his wheelchair and threw $45 at him stating, “I just wanted my birthday money back, my $120.” The incident was reported to the Chicago police by Glen, who identified Young by his nickname and Harris from a lineup.

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In July 2003, Evan Miller and Colby Smith killed Cole Cannon by beating Cannon with a baseball bat and burning his trailer. Cannon was inside. At the time, Miller was 14 years old. After Miller’s arrest, he was transferred from Lawrence County Juvenile Court to Lawrence County Circuit Court to be tried as an adult for capital murder. In 2006, a grand jury indicted Miller. At trial, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. The trial sentenced Miller to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

Miller filed a post-trial motion for a new trial. He argued that the sentencing of a 14-year-old defendant to life without the possibility of parole constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The trial judge denied the motion. Miller appealed to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The Supreme Court of Alabama denied Miller’s petition for writ of certiorari.

There was a companion case in whih the petitioner was also 14 years old at the time. He had robbed a local movie store in Blytheville, Ark., which led to the murder of the store clerk. There were three boys involved; all were 14 years old at the time. After a trial for the murder of the store clerk, one defendant was tried and convicted of capital murder and aggravated robbery. The trial court sentenced him to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

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