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People v. Miller

November 21, 2002

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
LEON MILLER, APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Fitzgerald

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 89795-Agenda 33-May 2001.

Defendant, Leon Miller, a 15-year-old juvenile, was charged with two counts of first degree murder (720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1996)) based upon accountability. Defendant was transferred to the criminal division of the Cook County circuit court and prosecuted as an adult. 705 ILCS 405/5-4(6)(a) (West 1996). Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of both counts, and the State requested that the circuit court sentence defendant to natural life imprisonment under the multiple-murder provision of the Unified Code of Corrections. See 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1996). The circuit court declined to impose the statutorily mandated sentence, holding that application of the statute to defendant would offend the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §11) and the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. VIII). Instead, the circuit court sentenced defendant to a term of 50 years in prison. The State appealed directly to this court. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

On November 19, 1997, Tommy Jones and Keith Alexander were shot and killed outside a Chicago apartment complex. Defendant was among those charged with their murders. In a court-reported statement made to the police and the prosecution within hours of the shooting, defendant described the incident and his participation therein.

According to defendant, on the night of the murders, Arthur Beckom and Kentrell Stoutmire observed people walking through their neighborhood that they believed belonged to a rival gang. Beckom and Stoutmire approached defendant, who was standing outside on a corner in the neighborhood, and asked him to stand as a lookout. Defendant saw that both Beckom and Stoutmire had guns in their possession, and although defendant never handled or touched the guns, he agreed to stand as a lookout. One minute later, Beckom and Stoutmire fired gunshots in the direction of Jones and Alexander, who both died as a result of their injuries. Once the shooting began, defendant ran to his girlfriend's house.

Four individuals were charged for their participation in the shooting. The first degree murder indictment charged Stoutmire and Beckom as the alleged shooters and defendant and another 15-year-old male, Douglas Baskerville, for their participation as lookouts. See 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(1) (West 1996). At separate jury trials, Beckom and Baskerville were acquitted. Stoutmire, who was 17 years old at the time of the murders, was convicted and sentenced to natural life in prison. Defendant was also convicted of the murders. At sentencing, however, through amicus curiae, the Edwin F. Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, defendant argued that a sentence of natural life imprisonment, pursuant to the multiple-murder sentencing statute, violated the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment contained within the federal constitution, as well as international law, which prohibits the imposition of a natural life sentence on a juvenile. Conversely, the State argued that the circuit court was obligated by the statute to impose a sentence of natural life imprisonment.

At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, the circuit court discussed its inability to sentence defendant pursuant to the terms of the multiple-murder sentencing statute:

"I have from the moment that the Jury came back with their findings been very concerned about what this meant, what this meant to [defendant] as a 15-year-old child, what this meant to society at large, to be part of a society where a 15-year-old child on a theory of accountability only, passive accountability, would suffer a sentence of life in the Penitentiary without the possibility of parole. *** I feel that it is clear that in my mind this is blatantly unfair and highly unconscionable, and let me state that I do not believe for a second that Mr. Miller is innocent of these charges. I believe he received a fair trial. I believe he was adequately represented. I believe he was proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and I believe he should suffer harsh criminal consequences for acting as a look-out in this case, but to suggest that he ought to receive a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, I find to be very, very hard to swallow to the point where I can describe it as unconscionable. I am concerned that a person under the age of 18 under Illinois law can do everything that John Gacy did, can torture and abuse and murder over 30 people, and would be in the same boat as [defendant] right now looking at a sentence of a minimum and maximum of life without the possibility of parole.

I have a 15-year-old child who was passively acting as a look-out for other people, never picked up a gun, never had much more than-perhaps less than a minute-to contemplate what this entire incident is about, and he is in the same situation as a serial killer for sentencing purposes."

The circuit court then concluded: "[A]s applied to [defendant], and by that I mean as a juvenile on the strict theory of accountability, that the [multiple-murder sentencing statute] as applied to him is unconstitutional under both Illinois and Federal law and it violates the Illinois Constitution under the proportionality section, and it violates the 8th Amendment of the United States Constitution." Defendant was sentenced to a term of 50 years' imprisonment.

ANALYSIS

In this appeal, we address whether the multiple-murder sentencing statute is unconstitutional as applied to a juvenile offender convicted under a theory of accountability.

At the outset, we recognize that this case presents an issue of jurisdiction. The State invokes this court's jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 302(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a)). However, Rule 302(a) does not provide a basis for the State to appeal in this case: Rule ...


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