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In re Destiny P.

Supreme Court of Illinois

October 19, 2017

In re DESTINY P., a Minor
v.
Destiny P., Appellee. The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant,

          JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion Chief Justice Karmeier and Justices Freeman, Kilbride, Garman, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          THOMAS, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 This is a direct appeal by the State from an order of the Cook County circuit court finding sections 5-101(3) and 5-605(1) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/5-101(3), 5-605(1) (West 2016)) unconstitutional as applied to respondent, Destiny P. The trial court found that these sections, which do not provide jury trials for first-time juvenile offenders charged with first degree murder, violate the equal protection clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. See U.S. Const., amend. XIV, § 1; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2. The trial court rejected respondent's argument that these sections were unconstitutional on due process grounds. Respondent cross-appeals this ruling. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the trial court's judgment rejecting respondent's due process challenge, and we reverse the trial court's judgment finding the statute unconstitutional on equal protection grounds.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On April 29, 2014, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship against respondent, Destiny P. The petition charged respondent, then 14 years old, with four counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of aggravated battery with a firearm, three counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, and one count of unlawful possession of a weapon. Respondent did not have a criminal background.

         ¶ 4 Respondent moved for a jury trial. Respondent conceded that the Act does not afford a jury trial to first-time offenders charged with first degree murder but contended that this denial violated her constitutional rights in two respects. First, a denial of a jury trial violated her due process rights. Respondent acknowledged that both the United States Supreme Court and this court have previously held that the due process clause does not require jury trials for juvenile adjudications. See McKeiver v. Pennsylvania, 403 U.S. 528, 545 (1971); In re Fucini, 44 Ill.2d 305, 308 (1970). However, respondent argued that the radical alteration of the Act in 1998 to make juvenile proceedings more like adult criminal proceedings means that due process now requires jury trials for juveniles charged with first degree murder. Second, respondent argued that denying a jury trial to juveniles charged with first degree murder violated the equal protection clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. Respondent argued that first-time juvenile offenders charged with first degree murder are similarly situated to juvenile offenders charged under either of two recidivist statutes: the habitual juvenile offender (HJO) and the violent juvenile offender (VJO) provisions of the Act. 705 ILCS 405/5-815, 5-820 (West 2016). Respondent pointed out that there are three classes of juveniles who face mandatory incarceration if adjudicated delinquent: (1) habitual juvenile offenders, (2) violent juvenile offenders, and (3) first-time offenders charged with first degree murder. Only the third class is not afforded the right to a jury trial. Thus, according to respondent, her equal protection rights would be violated if the court did not grant her request for a jury trial.

         ¶ 5 Following a hearing, the court granted respondent's motion. The court rejected respondent's due process argument. The trial judge explained that both the United States and Illinois Supreme Courts have repeatedly rejected the argument that due process requires jury trials in juvenile proceedings. The court stated that it was "far above [his] pay grade" to tell the United States and Illinois Supreme Courts what is correct and not correct.

         ¶ 6 The court agreed with respondent's equal protection argument. The court explained that it found In re G.O., 304 Ill.App.3d 719 (1999), persuasive. The court acknowledged that G.O. was not controlling because it had been vacated by this court on other grounds. See In re G.O., 191 Ill.2d 37 (2000). However, the court found G.O.'s equal protection analysis to be sound. The G.O. court found that juveniles charged with first degree murder are similarly situated to those charged under the HJO and VJO statutes because these three classes of offenders all face mandatory determinate sentences of confinement until the age of 21, with no possibility of parole for at least five years from the date of commitment. See G.O., 304 Ill.App.3d at 727. The G.O. court could discern no rational basis for denying a jury trial to first-time juvenile offenders charged with first degree murder while granting one to offenders charged under the VJO or HJO statutes. Id. Here, the trial court explained that it was not holding a statute unconstitutional because the Act was silent on whether or not minors in respondent's position are entitled to jury trials. Rather, the court was simply finding that it would violate respondent's equal protection rights to deny her a jury trial.

         ¶ 7 The State filed a motion to reconsider. In addition to disagreeing with the merits

of the court's equal protection ruling, the State pointed out that the court's description of the Act's jury trial provision was incorrect. The State argued that the statute was not "silent" on whether minors in respondent's position are entitled to jury trials. Rather, the Act provides that trials in delinquency proceedings are by the court except where a jury trial right is specifically set forth (see 705 ILCS

405/5-605(1) (West 2016)), and there is no such right for first-time offenders charged with first degree murder. Thus, the State argued that the court was declaring the statute unconstitutional, even if the court did not believe that it was doing so. Accordingly, the State asked the court to amend its order to include the requisite findings under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 18 (eff. Sept. 1, 2006).

         ¶ 8 The court denied the State's motion to reconsider, although the court acknowledged that it had erred in stating that the Act was silent on whether first-time juvenile offenders charged with first degree murder have a right to a jury trial. The court agreed with the State that the Act specifically provides that there is no right to a jury trial unless that right is specifically granted and no such right is granted to minors in respondent's position. The court otherwise reaffirmed its oral ruling. The court again found that the due process argument was foreclosed by case law from this court and the United States Supreme Court.

         ¶ 9 The court now found, however, that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to respondent and any other first-time juvenile offender charged with first degree murder. The court found that respondent was similarly situated to juveniles charged under the HJO or VJO statutes because all three classes of offenders are subject to mandatory incarceration if found to be delinquent. The court found that any differences between the sentences the minors in each class could receive are minor and insignificant and that the salient point was that each class receives a determinate sentence to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DOJJ) until the age of 21. For three reasons, the court found it irrelevant that the HJO and VJO statutes were designed to deal with recidivist offenders. First, some recidivist juveniles could receive longer periods of confinement without being afforded a jury trial. An example would be minors on their second gun offense charged as Class 2 felons. Second, it makes little sense that a person with multiple nonlethal offenses would receive a jury trial when someone charged with first degree murder would not. Third, a recidivist history is meaningless without some consequence attached to it, and the consequence is mandatory incarceration. This is the same fate facing those adjudicated delinquent of first degree murder. According to the court, it is not the multiple offenses that trigger the jury trial right but the mandatory incarceration that follows. The court further explained that a minor adjudicated delinquent under the HJO or VJO statutes could actually spend less time incarcerated than a juvenile adjudicated delinquent of first degree murder and that it makes no sense that only the former would be afforded a jury trial. The court explained that "similarly situated" does not mean ...


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