JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with
opinion. Justices Freeman, Garman, and Theis concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 At issue in this appeal is whether a minor who is tried in
adult court under the "automatic transfer"
provision of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS
405/5-130 (West 2008)) but is later not convicted of the
charges which brought him into adult court is subject to
mandatory adult sentencing under the Act. Defendant, age 16,
was charged with multiple counts of first degree murder and
tried in adult court but was convicted only of the uncharged
offense of second degree murder. See 720 ILCS 5/9-2(a)(2)
(West 2008). The circuit court of Cook County sentenced
defendant as an adult to 18 years in prison. We hold that the
trial court erred in automatically sentencing defendant as an
adult pursuant to section 5-130(1)(c)(i) of the Act because
second degree murder was not a "charge[ ] arising out of
the same incident" as the first degree murder charges.
705 ILCS 405/5-130(1)(a), (1)(c)(i) (West 2008).
3 Defendant, Cameron Fort, was indicted and charged by a
grand jury with 57 counts of first degree murder, 9 counts of
attempted first degree murder, and 3 counts of aggravated
discharge of a firearm in connection with the shooting death
of Lee Ivory Miller on March 16, 2009. Defendant was 16 years
old at the time of the incident.
4 The State proceeded to trial on four counts of first degree
murder and dismissed the remaining charges. Because defendant
was charged with first degree murder, an offense specified in
section 5-130 of the Act (705 ILCS 405/5-130(1)(a) (West
2008)), also known as the "automatic transfer"
statute, defendant was tried as an adult. 705 ILCS
405/5-130(1)(b)(ii) (West 2008).
5 Defendant elected a bench trial. A detailed recitation of
the trial evidence is contained in the appellate court's
opinion. 2014 IL App (1st) 113315-U. We briefly summarize the
facts here, bearing in mind that the issue presented in this
appeal is one of law.
6 At trial, Keva Donaldson testified that on March 16, 2009,
she met a group of friends after school at the intersection
of East 64th Street and South Stony Island Avenue. Donaldson
and her friends attended Hyde Park Academy. While Donaldson
was talking to another girl, a boy named "Bolo"
began speaking to her and tapping her on the back. When
Donaldson told him to stop, Bolo hit her with a closed fist,
leaving a mark on her face from his ring. Bolo and his
friends, including defendant, then ran away. Donaldson
borrowed a cell phone and called a male friend to ask him to
confront Bolo. Airreon Sykes, Elijah Sullivan, Gerome
Freeman, Lamont Nichols, and Miller eventually arrived.
Sometime later, Donaldson said, she went into a convenience
store. When she left the store, Sykes and another boy told
her that defendant had shot Miller a block away.
7 Freeman testified that on March 16, 2009, he arrived at a
location near 1516 East 65th Place and began walking with
Sykes, Sullivan, Nichols, Miller, and other individuals.
Freeman said he separated from the group and crossed the
street to talk to a group of girls, then crossed back to
rejoin his friends who were standing near a vacant lot.
Freeman testified that his friends had surprised looks on
their faces. He then saw defendant nearby pointing a gun at
the group. He said defendant hesitated for about 30 seconds
and then began shooting. Freeman heard two or three shots
fired as he ran away but did not see defendant fire the gun.
Freeman denied that he or his friends had any guns or other
weapons, but he testified that he thought Miller was holding
a stick in his hand.
8 Sykes testified that he was with Sullivan, Freeman,
Nichols, Donaldson, and Miller on the afternoon of March 16,
2009, at the corner of East 65th Street and Stony Island
Avenue. Sykes knew defendant from school and testified that
defendant had been involved in a fight a week or two before
the shooting. Sykes saw defendant walking toward him and his
group of friends. Defendant then crossed the street and
walked away from the group. Sykes testified that they lost
sight of defendant. A while later, Sykes and his friends
split into two groups and began to search the area for
defendant. After they reached a vacant lot, they saw that
defendant was standing nearby but facing away from them.
Defendant turned around and appeared surprised to see them.
Sykes saw defendant pull a gun out of his pocket and point it
at the group. After five to ten seconds, defendant began
shooting. Sykes testified that no one in the group had any
weapons, sticks, or poles.
9 The parties stipulated that during an autopsy, three bullet
entrance wounds were found on Miller's body-on his right
shoulder, his upper left back, and his left buttock-and two
bullets were recovered from his body. Those bullets were
later tested and determined to have been fired from the same
10 The State then introduced a video recording of
defendant's interrogation by a detective and assistant
State's Attorney on January 9, 2010, one day after his
arrest. In the video, defendant stated that he found a gun in
an alley on March 14, 2009, and he intended to return it that
location. Defendant said that on March 16, 2009, he saw
Nichols at a bus stop near East 65th Street and Stony Island
Avenue. When Nichols approached defendant with his hand in
his pocket, defendant crossed the street to avoid him.
Defendant said he had heard that Nichols had threatened
others with guns. Nichols continued to follow him as he
walked down the street. Defendant stated that he was
panicking and thought he was going to die because he was
"eighty percent sure" that Nichols was holding a
11 Defendant stated in the video that he pulled out a gun
from his sweatshirt pocket before he reached the vacant lot.
He saw Sykes and Miller standing about 10 feet away.
Defendant stated that Sykes was holding a thick metal pole.
He could not tell whether Miller had anything in his hands.
Defendant stated that he jumped, which caused the gun to
discharge accidentally. Defendant said he fired a second shot
three seconds later because his ears were ringing and he
thought he heard Nichols shooting at him. He stated that he
just wanted to scare them so that they would leave him alone.
He denied aiming at anyone and denied firing a third shot.
12 The State rested its case. Defendant did not present any
evidence. Following closing arguments, the trial court found
defendant not guilty of two counts of murder and merged the
remaining two counts. The court found that the State had
proved the elements of first degree murder but also found
that "at the time of the killing [defendant] believed
the circumstances to be such that if they existed would have
justified or exonerated the killing under the said principles
of self-defense, but his belief was unreasonable."
Accordingly, the trial court reduced the offense of first
degree murder to second degree murder based on the mitigating
factor of an unreasonable belief in self-defense. The court
entered judgment on a conviction of second degree murder (720
ILCS 5/9-2(a)(2) (West 2008)).
13 Although defendant was a minor, the State never filed a
written motion requesting that defendant be sentenced as an
adult pursuant to section 5-130(1)(c)(ii) of the Act (705
ILCS 405/5-130(1)(c)(ii) (West 2008)). Nor did defendant
object or argue at the time of sentencing that he should have
been sentenced as a juvenile. Instead, the trial court and
the parties proceeded directly to a sentencing hearing under
the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/1-1-1 et
seq. (West 2008)) pursuant to section 5-130(1)(c)(i) of
the Act. Following the sentencing hearing, defendant was
sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment in the Illinois
Department of Corrections with two years of mandatory
supervised release. Defendant filed a motion to reconsider
sentence arguing that his sentence was excessive. The trial
court denied the motion.
14 On appeal, defendant argued, inter alia, that his
adult sentence should be reversed because he was convicted of
second degree murder, a non-automatic transfer offense and,
thus, he should have been sentenced as a juvenile under
section 5-130(1)(c)(ii). The appellate court rejected this
argument and affirmed defendant's conviction and
sentence. 2014 IL App (1st) 113315-U. The court held that a
minor who is charged with first degree murder but convicted
only of the uncharged offense of second degree murder is
subject to mandatory adult sentencing under section
5-130(1)(c)(i) of the Act. Id. ¶¶ 29-33.
15 This court granted defendant's petition for leave to
appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 315 (eff. Jan.
1, 2015). We have permitted the John Howard Association of
Illinois, along with various other groups and individuals
concerned with the fair sentencing of minors, to file a brief
as amici curiae in support of defendant. Ill. S.Ct. R. 345
(eff. Sept. 20, 2010).
17 I. Plain Error
18 At the outset, we recognize that defendant failed to
challenge the propriety of his adult sentence before the
trial court. Defendant neither objected to his adult sentence
at his sentencing hearing nor raised such a claim in his
motion to reconsider sentence. Accordingly, this issue was
forfeited and may not be considered on appeal unless it was
plain error. Ill. S.Ct. R. 615(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 1967);
People v. Bannister, 232 Ill.2d 52, 76 (2008) (to
preserve a sentencing claim for appeal, a defendant must make
a contemporaneous objection at the sentencing hearing and
raise the issue in a postsentencing motion). The plain error
doctrine is set forth in this court's jurisprudence as
"[T]he plain-error doctrine bypasses normal forfeiture
principles and allows a reviewing court to consider
unpreserved error when either (1) the evidence is close,
regardless of the seriousness of the error, or (2) the error
is serious, regardless of the closeness of the evidence. In
the first instance, the defendant must prove 'prejudicial
error.' That is, the defendant must show both that there
was plain error and that the evidence was so closely balanced
that the error alone severely threatened to tip the scales of
justice against him. *** In the second instance, the
defendant must prove there was plain error and that the error
was so serious that it affected the fairness of the
defendant's trial and challenged the integrity of the
judicial process. [People v. Keene, 169 Ill.2d 1, 17
(1995).] Prejudice to the defendant is presumed because of
the importance of the right involved,
'regardless of the ...