Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 88-CR-9683 Honorable Daniel J. Kelley, Judge Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Theis
Following a jury trial, defendant Cinque Lewis was convicted of murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to death on the murder conviction and to a term of 30 years' imprisonment for the armed robbery conviction. On direct appeal, the supreme court affirmed his convictions and sentence for armed robbery, vacated his death sentence, and remanded for a new death sentencing hearing. People v. Lewis, 165 Ill. 2d 305, 651 N.E.2d 72 (1995). On remand, defendant was sentenced to a mandatory term of natural life imprisonment due to his prior murder conviction in California pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c) of the Unified Code of Corrections. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c).
He now contends that his life sentence was improper where his previous conviction was for second degree murder, where the applicable laws of California and Illinois are not substantially similar, and where the court's alternative basis for his life sentence is unconstitutional. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the circuit court.
Defendant's current murder conviction arose from the fatal stabbing of Yvonne Donald on November 6, 1985. The facts surrounding the conviction were fully set forth in the supreme court opinion and need not be repeated here. On remand, after defendant waived his right to a jury for capital sentencing, the parties stipulated that on November 28, 1982, when defendant was 16 years old, he fatally shot Dwight Crozier in the chest at close range in Oakland, California. Defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of second degree murder. The State tendered a certified copy of his guilty plea, which was entered on February 10, 1986.
Based upon his prior murder conviction in California, the trial court found defendant eligible for the death penalty pursuant to section 9-1(b)(3) of the Criminal Code of 1961. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(3). However, after hearing arguments in aggravation and mitigation, the court found sufficient mitigating factors to preclude the imposition of that sentence. Thereafter, defendant was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole based upon the multiple murders pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c). Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c).
Defendant's main contention is that the trial court erred in concluding that his second degree murder conviction in California was sufficient to trigger the mandatory life sentence provision under section 5-8-1 because it only applies to first degree murders. Thus, this case presents a question of statutory interpretation and will be reviewed de novo. People v. Robinson, 172 Ill. 2d 452, 457, 667 N.E.2d 1305, 1307 (1996). At the time defendant committed the murders, the Illinois legislature had not distinguished between first and second degree murder. The sentencing statute in effect at the time provided:
"(1) [F]or murder, *** (c) if the defendant has previously been convicted of murder under any state or federal law or is found guilty of murdering more than one victim, the court shall sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment." Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c).
However, in 1986, the legislature renamed the offense of murder to first degree murder, replaced voluntary manslaughter with second degree murder, and amended the sentencing scheme accordingly. People v. Jeffries, 164 Ill. 2d 104, 111, 646 N.E.2d 587, 590 (1995). The amended sentencing statute provides:
"(1) [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).
By renaming the offenses, the legislature did not substantively change the sentencing statute. The definitions of murder and first degree murder are identical, both providing for intentional, knowing, and felony murder, with the only exception that the new definition uses the term "second degree murder" in place of "voluntary manslaughter." Compare 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a) (West 1998) with Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a). Accordingly, we must consider whether conduct that is labeled second degree murder in California would constitute murder in Illinois if the offense had occurred here.
In People v. Guest, 115 Ill. 2d 72, 503 N.E.2d 255 (1986), the supreme court engaged in a similar comparative analysis of the murder statutes of Illinois and California. While the court was focused upon the multiple murder provisions relating to eligibility for the death penalty under section 9-1(b)(3) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 9-1(b)(3)), we nevertheless find it instructive on this issue. There, the defendant had an Illinois murder conviction and a previous conviction for second degree murder in California. The court concluded that the California murder statute was substantially similar to the murder statute in Illinois. The court reasoned that the similarity is not found in ...