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People v. Reynolds

February 08, 2002


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 96 CR 19599 Honorable Vincent Gaughan, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman


The State charged Ebony Reynolds, the defendant, with first degree murder but did not seek the death penalty. The defendant exercised his right to have his case heard before a jury, which found him guilty. However, the jury was not instructed on and did not find the defendant eligible for the death penalty. Consequently, as no death penalty hearing was held, the defendant never waived his right to a jury as to his eligibility for the death penalty. At defendant's sentencing hearing, the court found that under section 9-1(b)(5) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the Code) (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(5) (West 1998)), the defendant had contracted to kill an individual for money, which is an aggravated factor for sentencing. The court also found that under section 9-1(b)(11) of the Code (720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(11) (West 1998)), the defendant committed the murder in a cold, calculated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan to take a life by unlawful means, which is also an aggravated factor for sentencing. Thereafter, the court sentenced the defendant to natural life in prison. For the reasons that follow, we vacate defendant's life sentence and remand for resentencing.

Defendant's only contention on appeal is that sections 9-1(b)(5) and (b)(11) allow a trial judge, at sentencing, to extend a first degree murder sentence from its normal range of 20 to 60 years' imprisonment (pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(a) of the Unified Code of corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(a) (West 1998))) to natural life imprisonment without submitting the predicate facts to a jury and without finding those facts beyond a reasonable doubt in violation of Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 147 L. Ed. 2d 435, 120 S. Ct. 2348 (2000). The supreme court in People v. Ford, 198 Ill. 2d 68 (2001), provided a succinct background of Apprendi:

"In Apprendi, the United States Supreme Court invalidated New Jersey's hate crime statute, which allowed the sentencing judge to increase the sentence for a particular offense beyond the statutory maximum if the judge found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant, in committing the offense, acted with a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals on the basis of, inter alia, race. Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 468-69, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 442, 120 S. Ct. at 2351. In doing so, the Court held that, under the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV), '[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.' Apprendi, 530 U.S. at 490, 147 L. Ed. 2d at 455, 120 S. Ct. at 2362-63." Ford, 198 Ill. 2d at 73.

Initially, we note that under the statutory scheme in effect at the time of the offense, the sentence imposed against the defendant was legal and proper. Under the 1998 version of section 5-8-1(a)(1)(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(b) (West 1998)), in instances where a defendant is convicted of first degree murder:

"[I]f the [trial] court finds that *** any of the aggravating factors listed in subsection (b) of Section 9-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 [(720 ILCS 5/9-1(b) (West 1998))] are present, the court may sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment."

In turn, section 9-1 lists a number of aggravating factors that a trial court may use to find a defendant death-eligible if it finds that the crime meets those specific factual circumstances. The first factor used in the present case was under subsection (b)(5), which states that a defendant convicted of first degree murder is death eligible if:

"[T]he defendant committed the murder pursuant to a contract, agreement or understanding by which he was to receive money or anything of value in return for committing the murder or procured another to commit the murder for money or anything of value." 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(5) (West 1998).

The second, alternative factor that the court used was under subsection (b)(11):

"[T]he murder was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner pursuant to a preconceived plan, scheme or design to take a human life by unlawful means, and the conduct of the defendant created a reasonable expectation that the death of a human being would result therefrom." 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(11) (West 1998).

Under this sentencing scheme, all that was required of the trial judge to sentence the defendant to life in prison was a finding that any of the aggravated sentencing factors were present. Here, it is uncontested that the trial court explicitly met that requirement when it stated:

"All right. Under *** section [9-1] ***, the aggravated factors, I find that Mr. Reynolds had contracted to kill an individual for money under section [9-1(b)(5)] and also under section [9-1(b)(11)] he qualifies. I will sentence him to natural life."

Accordingly, under the sentencing outlines employed at the time, i.e., pre-Apprendi, the ...

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