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People v. West

July 09, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
PAUL WEST, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Mcnulty

UNPUBLISHED

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County Honorable S. Sutker-Dermer, Judge Presiding

This case presents a straightforward question of statutory interpretation. When the legislature prescribed a sentence of natural life in prison for a first degree murder committed by a person who had previously committed "first degree murder under any state or federal law" (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(i) (West 1998)), did the legislature mean the sentencing provisions to apply only if the state had named the prior conviction as one for "first degree murder"? The parties agree that the legislative history includes no discussion of the issue.

In 1978 defendant, Paul West, pled guilty to a charge of murder. People v. West, 187 Ill. 2d 418, 437, 719 N.E.2d 664 (1999). The trial court, in a bench trial, found defendant guilty of another murder committed in 1986 and sentenced him to death. Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for the second murder.

In 1986 the legislature renamed the offense of murder to first degree murder. People v. Jeffries, 164 Ill. 2d 104, 111, 646 N.E.2d 587 (1995). The legislature also amended the sentencing provision for murder. Before the amendment, the statute prescribed the sentence of natural life in prison for any defendant convicted of murder who had a prior murder conviction under any state or federal law. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c). The amended Unified Code of Corrections provides:

"[F]or first degree murder,

***

(c) the court shall sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment when the death penalty is not imposed if the defendant []

(i) has previously been convicted of first degree murder under any state or federal law." 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(i) (West 1998).

On the appeal from the second murder conviction, our supreme court affirmed the conviction but remanded to the trial court for the imposition of a sentence other than death. At the new sentencing hearing the trial court held that the statute mandated a sentence of natural life in prison. Defendant again appeals from his sentence.

Defendant contends that in 1978 he pled guilty to "murder," not to "first degree murder," and therefore section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(i) does not apply. The legislature defined first degree murder in section 9-1(a) of the Criminal Code. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1998). That section states:

"A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death:

(1) he either intends to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another, or knows that such acts will cause death to that individual or another; or

(2) he knows that such acts create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that ...


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