The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Miller
Docket No. 87204-Agenda 7-May 2000.
This appeal is brought by the State from an order of the circuit court of Cook County granting a motion by the defendant, Luis Ruiz, to preclude the State from seeking the death penalty in the present case. The matter was before the circuit court for a new sentencing hearing, ordered as post-conviction relief. The trial judge concluded that sentencing the defendant to death would be disproportionate to the sentences of natural life imprisonment received by a co-defendant, Placido LaBoy, for the same set of offenses. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the order of the circuit court and remand the cause for further proceedings.
The present case has a lengthy procedural history, but the major features require only brief recitation. The defendant was originally convicted in a jury trial in 1980 of three counts of murder, three counts of armed violence, and three counts of unlawful restraint for his role in the deaths of three youths who were members of a rival street gang. The defendant waived a jury for purposes of a capital sentencing hearing, and, following a hearing, the trial judge sentenced the defendant to death for the murder convictions. On direct appeal, this court affirmed the defendant's convictions and death sentence. People v. Ruiz, 94 Ill. 2d 245 (1982).
In our initial opinion in this case, the court rejected the defendant's contention that he could not be sentenced to death because he was guilty of these offenses only under an accountability theory. The court explained:
"It was Ruiz who first deceived the three victims by telling them that he was a Latin Eagle when they bragged to him that they had participated in a 'hit' on some Latin Queens. It was Ruiz who directed that they all get into the victims' car and drive to the first alley. Ruiz took Michael [Salcido] down the alley and participated in beating him to the ground. Ruiz told the assistant State's Attorney that his companions said that they would have to kill the three boys. After learning this, when they stopped in the second alley, Ruiz did not depart but stayed while each of the three was systematically and ruthlessly executed. Arthur Salcido was stabbed a total of eight times in the chest, and his throat was cut completely across, severing his windpipe, as well as the major arteries on either side of his neck. Frank Mussa was stabbed a total of 21 times: three times in the neck, three times in the chest and 15 times in the back. Michael Salcido was stabbed a total of 18 times: 10 times in the face and neck, five times in the abdomen and three times in the back. Ruiz never told either Lopez or the assistant State's Attorney that he protested while all of these blows were being struck. In fact, nothing in the record shows what he was doing during the considerable time that it took to perform these acts, which must have been accomplished in the face of extreme effort on the part of the victims to preserve themselves and through greater efforts on the parts of the participants to overcome the victims' defenses. In any event, when all was finished, Ruiz assisted the others in wiping the car free of fingerprints and then walked away from the scene with his companions." Ruiz, 94 Ill. 2d at 264-65.
After this court affirmed the defendant's convictions and death sentence, the United States Supreme Court denied the defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari. Ruiz v. Illinois, 462 U.S. 1112, 77 L. Ed. 2d 1341, 103 S. Ct. 2465 (1983). The defendant then commenced post-conviction proceedings, and the case was assigned to the same judge who had presided at trial. The judge dismissed the petition without an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, this court held that section 122-8 of the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1984 Supp., ch. 38, par. 122-8) required that the cause, as a post-conviction matter, be assigned to a judge other than the defendant's trial judge. People v. Ruiz, 107 Ill. 2d 19 (1985). On remand, the case was reassigned to a different judge, who later denied post-conviction relief without an evidentiary hearing. The defendant appealed from that ruling, and this court affirmed in part and reversed in part, ordering an evidentiary hearing on allegations in the petition challenging counsel's effectiveness at the capital sentencing hearing. People v. Ruiz, 132 Ill. 2d 1 (1989). The United States Supreme Court later denied the defendant's petition for a writ of certiorari. Ruiz v. Illinois, 496 U.S. 931, 110 L. Ed. 2d 652, 110 S. Ct. 2632 (1990). Following an evidentiary hearing on the allegations of ineffective assistance, the circuit court granted relief to the defendant on that portion of the post-conviction petition and vacated the defendant's death sentence, finding that trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance at the sentencing hearing. The State appealed from that judgment, and this court affirmed the order granting the defendant a new sentencing hearing. People v. Ruiz, 177 Ill. 2d 368 (1997). The cause was then remanded to the circuit court for resentencing.
The present appeal arises from an order entered by the circuit court after the latest remand. Prior to the holding of a new sentencing hearing, the defendant moved to bar entry of the death penalty in this case. The defendant argued, among other things, that sentencing him to death would be disproportionate to the three consecutive sentences of natural life imprisonment imposed on a co-defendant, Placido LaBoy, for the same offenses. LaBoy had received those sentences after a jury was unable to agree to impose the death penalty in his case. See People v. Caballero, 179 Ill. 2d 205, 212 (1997). We note here the sentences given to the two other offenders involved in these crimes. A second co-defendant, Juan Caballero, received the death penalty for these offenses. Caballero's case is currently before the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing on a claim similar to the one involved here, but raised in the context of a post-conviction proceeding, that his death sentence is disproportionate to LaBoy's natural life sentences. A third co-defendant, Nelson Aviles, reached a plea agreement with the State under which Aviles testified against LaBoy at LaBoy's trial, pleaded guilty to these offenses, and received concurrent sentences of 40 years' imprisonment for the three murders.
In the proceedings below, the trial judge granted the defendant's motion to preclude a death penalty hearing, concluding that the death penalty should not be a possible sentence in this case because it would be disproportionate to LaBoy's sentences. In reaching this result, the judge found that the defendant was less culpable than LaBoy in these offenses and that the defendant's prospects for rehabilitation were as good as or better than LaBoy's. The State brings the present appeal from that ruling.
We are met at the outset with a challenge to our jurisdiction. The defendant has moved to dismiss the present appeal, and we ordered the motion taken with the case. The defendant argues that nothing in our rules on appeals in criminal cases authorizes the State to bring the present appeal, and he believes that the present appeal must therefore be dismissed. The State, in response, asserts that the order entered by the circuit court in this case is similar to one that halts a criminal proceeding in the defendant's favor on grounds that prevent the State from prosecuting the defendant. The State thus contends believes that it should be allowed to proceed with the appeal under Supreme Court Rules 603 and 604(a)(1) (134 Ill. 2d R. 603; 145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)).
We agree with the defendant that the present appeal does not readily fit within the range of State appeals authorized by our rules. No rule expressly permits the State to bring an appeal from an order like the one entered here. Nonetheless, we believe that it is appropriate to consider the present appeal on its merits. We note that the State could have attempted to obtain review of the challenged order through a motion for a supervisory order, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 383 (155 Ill. 2d R. 383), invoking our general supervisory authority over the courts of the state (Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §16). Contrary to the view expressed by Chief Justice Harrison in his dissent, this court has previously allowed supervisory relief in a number of criminal cases. People ex rel. Baricevic v. Wharton, 136 Ill. 2d 423 (1990); People ex rel. Daley v. Suria, 112 Ill. 2d 26 (1986); People ex rel. Ward v. Moran, 54 Ill. 2d 552 (1973); see also Doherty v. Caisley, 104 Ill. 2d 72 (1984) (supervisory order entered directing circuit judge to vacate orders appointing public defender of different county to represent two inmates in civil actions relating to computation of sentence and denial of parole). And when supervisory orders have been denied, the court has done so without suggesting that supervisory relief is never available in criminal cases. People ex rel. Daley v. Joyce, 126 Ill. 2d 209 (1988); People ex rel. Daley v. Fitzgerald, 123 Ill. 2d 175 (1988); People ex rel. Foreman v. Nash, 118 Ill. 2d 90 (1987). Given the general importance of the issue presented to the development of our law, we consider it appropriate to exercise our supervisory authority in this case and address the merits of the State's appeal. Notably, dismissing the appeal would effectively bar the State from ever seeking the death penalty against the defendant for these offenses, for the State could not later appeal the entry of a non-capital sentence. We now turn to a consideration of the merits of the question presented here.
The State argues that the trial court erred in granting the defendant's motion to preclude a death sentence here. We agree. We believe that the trial court acted prematurely in attempting to determine whether a sentence of death imposed in this case would be disproportionate to the non-capital sentences imposed on a co-defendant.
Our cases have consistently held that evidence of a co-defendant's sentence is irrelevant and thus inadmissible at a capital sentencing hearing. In People v. Emerson, 189 Ill. 2d 436 (2000), this court recently considered whether a defendant was entitled to present, at the second stage of a capital sentencing hearing, evidence of a co-defendant's sentence. This court concluded that the trial judge in that case acted properly in barring introduction to the evidence. The court explained:
"It is well established by the precedent of this court that a defendant does not have a right to present evidence of a co-defendant's sentence at the aggravation-mitigation stage of sentencing. See, e.g., People v. Jackson, 182 Ill. 2d 30, 54 (1998). As we explained in People v. Page, 156 Ill. 2d 258, 271-72 (1993), evidence of a co-defendant's sentence is not a relevant mitigating factor at the aggravation-mitigation stage, where the focus is on the defendant's character and participation in the offense. `[R]equiring the sentencer to examine and compare the relative culpability of the defendants and the circumstances in aggravation and mitigation applicable to each would unnecessarily complicate an already difficult task.' Page, 156 Ill. 2d at 272. Thus, while a reviewing court may consider whether a defendant's sentence is disparate when compared to a co-defendant's sentence, a defendant does not have a right to present the sentencing jury with evidence of a co-defendant's sentence. Jackson, 182 Ill. 2d at 92. Based on this authority, we hold that the circuit court did not err in excluding evidence of Jackson's sentence." Emerson, 189 Ill. 2d at 501.
In People v. Page, 156 Ill. 2d 258 (1993), this court declined to follow a Florida case that permitted capital sentencers to consider sentences given to co-defendants. In addition to the concerns ...