The Illinois Supreme Court's January Term begins on Monday, January 14th. The Term will include oral argument in 6 criminal cases and 7 civil cases between January 15th and January 24th. Below is a listing of the 6 criminal cases that will be heard:
Tuesday, January 15, 2019:
People v. Dimitri Buffer, No. 122327
People v. David Kimble, No. 122830
People v. Ronald Greco, Nos. 122951 & 122952, cons.
People v. Aaron Rios-Salazar, No. 123052
Wednesday, January 16, 2019:
People v. Deontae Murray, No. 123289
People v. Gerald Drake, No. 123734
Below is a summary of one of the criminal cases to be argued. As always, more information about all pending criminal and civil cases is available in the ALA's Cases Pending newsletter.
People v. Dimitri Buffer, No. 122327
17-year old Dimitri Buffer was sentenced to a 50-year sentence, for which he will be released at age 66, for first degree murder (while discharging a firearm). After briefing on his direct appeal was complete, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 479 (2012), that the Eighth Amendment bars mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juvenile homicide offenders (i.e., under age 18). Buffer filed a postconviction petition alleging that his 50-year sentence violated the Eighth Amendment. The trial court dismissed the petition at the first stage, and the appellate court reversed, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. The appellate court (1) held that defendant's 50-year sentence was a de facto life sentence; and (2) remanded for resentencing because remanding for second-stage postconviction proceedings would be inefficient.
Before the Illinois Supreme Court, the State asserts that the appellate court erred in relying on life expectancy tables to support its finding that a 50-year sentence is de facto natural life and that the consensus in the Illinois Appellate Court is that some point between 54 and 59 years becomes functionally equivalent to life without parole. Common sense and experience comport with the conclusion that a 50-year sentence should not be considered a de facto life sentence. The State asked the Court to provide important guidance to Illinois courts by defining precisely what term-of-years sentence constitutes a de facto life sentence for Eighth Amendment purposes. If the Court holds that 50 years does qualify as de facto life, the State requests that the matter be remanded for second-stage postconviction proceedings (rather than resentencing) to allow the State to file responsive pleadings and assert possible procedural defenses.
Defendant responds by arguing that 50 years should qualify as a de facto life sentence because it does not afford juveniles a meaningful opportunity to reintegrate into society and become productive citizens. Defendant also criticizes the sentence given that juvenile brains will finish developing decades before such long sentences conclude (when their behavior will likely be reformed) and that legitimate penological goals differ for juveniles. Defendant cites holdings from other jurisdictions on the question. Finally on this topic, defendant faults the State for evaluating only whether the sentence was "survivable." Defendant disagrees with the State's request that the Court define generally what term-of-years sentence constitutes de facto life for juvenile defendants and defends the appellate court's decision that it could order resentencing in the case's procedural posture. And if the sentence is deemed constitutional, defendant requests remand to the appellate court to consider whether the sentence comported with the Illinois Constitution, an issue the appellate court declined to address given its Eighth Amendment holding.