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People v. Kaczmarek

December 27, 2000


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cerda

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable John Brady, Judge Presiding.


Following a jury trial in July 1989, defendant, Henry Kaczmarek, was convicted of murder, residential burglary, home invasion, and armed robbery and was sentenced to a term of natural life imprisonment on the murder conviction. Defendant appealed, and on March 31, 1993, this court reversed the murder conviction and remanded for a new trial. *fn1 People v. Kaczmarek, 243 Ill. App. 3d 1067, 1082, 613 N.E.2d 1253, 1264 (1993) (Kaczmarek I).

Prior to the start of his second trial in November 1996, defendant unsuccessfully moved to dismiss the State's charges on the grounds that his constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial had been violated. Following a retrial by jury, defendant was again found guilty of murder and, following a finding by the sentencing judge that the victim's murder was "exceptionally brutal or heinous," defendant received an enhanced term of natural life in prison under section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Corrections Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(b)).

Defendant appeals, arguing (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion for speedy-trial dismissal of the State's charges, and (2) he was denied a fair trial when the court (a) accepted a State witness as an expert in the area of chemical luminol testing and interpretation; (b) refused to accept a defense witness as an expert in the fields of luminol interpretation and blood splatter analysis; and (c) precluded the testimony of a defense witness concerning certain physical altercations defendant had been involved in with other individuals prior to the victim's murder. Defendant additionally challenges the validity of this life sentence, claiming the penalty enhancing scheme provided by section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the Corrections Code is constitutionally infirm in light of in light of the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. __, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000).

For the following reasons, we reject, in an unpublished portion of this opinion, defendant's speedy trial and trial error claims and affirm defendant's conviction for murder. However, because the penalty scheme set forth in section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the Corrections Code offends the constitutional principles announced in Apprendi, we vacate defendant's life sentence and remand for resentencing. (Nonpublishable material removed under Supreme Court Rule 23)

The primary issue presented by defendant's appeal is whether the sentencing scheme set forth in section 5-1-8(a)(1)(b) of Corrections Code, which allows for an enhanced sentence for first degree murder under certain court-determined circumstances, offends the constitutional mandates announced by the Supreme Court in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. __, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000).

At sentencing in May 1997, the State urged the court to impose a life sentence based on its contention that the victim's murder was "exceptionally brutal" and "heinous" within the meaning of section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) contained in the 1985 version of the Corrections Code. That version of section 5-8-1 generally enumerates the imprisonment terms for felony offenses and specifically sets forth a sentence of "not less than 20 years and not more than 40 years" in prison for the offense of first degree murder. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985 ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a))(1)(a). *fn2 Under paragraph (1)(b) of this provision, a sentence of natural life is authorized where the sentencing judge finds that "the murder was accompanied by exceptionally brutal or heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985 ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(b).

The sentencing judge in the instant case agreed with the State's characterization of the crime and, specifically drawing upon his recollection of the evidentiary proofs adduced at trial, he found the conduct of defendant accompanying the murder of Ms. Nielsen to be brutal and heinous as contemplated by the Corrections Code. Based on its finding, the court sentenced defendant to life in prison.

In Apprendi, the accused, Charles Apprendi, pled guilty to, among other offenses, two counts of second degree possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose. Under New Jersey's sentencing scheme, a second-degree offense carried a penalty range of 5 to 10 years in prison. As part of the plea agreement, the prosecution reserved the right, however, to seek a greater sentence on one of the two firearm possession counts under a hate crime statute that allowed for an enhanced sentence where the offense was committed with a biased purpose. For a second-degree offense, the hate crime law provided for a prison term of between 10 and 20 years.

Following a hearing, the sentencing court found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the firearm possession offense committed by Apprendi was motivated by a racial bias. Relying on the hate crime enhancement provision, the court sentenced Apprendi to a term of 12 years, two years beyond the statutory maximum penalty for such an offense.

Apprendi challenged the validity of his sentence to the state appellate and supreme courts, arguing that the sentencing scheme provided in the hate crime law was unconstitutional. The state courts disagreed and upheld Apprendi's sentence. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that New Jersey's sentencing scheme infringed upon the due process and notice and right to jury clauses of the Constitution by impermissibly allowing the sentencing judge, rather than the jury, to determine, under a relaxed evidentiary standard, a fact which is most appropriately characterized as an element of the underlying offense.

After discussing at length the constitutional rights of every defendant in a criminal case to a trial by jury in which the State is required to prove every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt (U.S. Const. amends. V, VI, XIV; Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 446-48, 120 S. Ct. at 2355-56), the Court examined the term "sentencing factor," a term it first coined in McMillan v. Pennsylvania, 477 U.S. 79, 91 L. Ed. 2d 67, 106 S. Ct. 2411 (1986), in light of the novelty of legislative schemes, referred to as "sentence enhancements," that remove from the jury the determination of a fact that, if found, exposes a defendant to a penalty exceeding the maximum he would receive if punished according to the facts reflected by the jury verdict alone. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 448-52, 120 S. Ct. at 2356-60. According to the Court, a "sentencing factor" is "a circumstance, which may be either aggravating or mitigating in character, that supports a specific sentence within a range authorized by the jury's finding that the defendant is guilty of a particular offense." (Emphasis omitted.) 530 U.S. at __ n.19, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 457 n.19, 120 S. Ct. at 2365 n.19. A "sentence enhancement," on the other hand, refers to a factual determination that results in "an increase beyond the maximum authorized statutory sentence." Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __ n.19, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 457, n.19, 120 S. Ct. at 2365, n.19.

The Court explicitly recognized that the effect of sentence enhancement legislation on a defendant's punishment raises serious constitutional concerns in light of its prior precedent in the area and the history upon which those decisions rely. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 452, 120 S. Ct. at 2360. For the first time, the Court squarely confronted the issue of whether such enhancement schemes run afoul of well-established constitutional principles. Traditionally, according to the Court, any circumstance that exposed an accused to a higher degree of punishment had to be pled in the charging instrument and presented and proven to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 449, 120 S. Ct. at 2357. Further, the fact that judges have historically enjoyed the discretion of fixing a punishment within a prescribed statutory range (Apprendi, 530 U.S. at __, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 449-50, 120 S. Ct. at 2358) demonstrated that their role in sentencing was "constrained at its outer limits by the facts alleged in the indictment and found by ...

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