Illinois Supreme Court Rules Against Certain Mandatory Minimum Sentences

About 100 Illinois inmates who were sentenced to life in prison for murders they committed as youths will have the opportunity to have their sentences re-visited thanks to a 2012 Illinois Supreme Court decision.

Illinois Supreme Court Rules Life in Prison for Juvenile Murder Offenders Unconstitutional

Before People v. Williams, Illinois provided mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for all defendants convicted of murder. The mandatory minimum applied whether the murder was convicted by hardened criminal with prior arrests for violent crimes, or a first-time youth offender. The defendant was not allowed to offer evidence detailing his upbringing, the circumstances that led to commission of the crime, whether he had been the victim of trauma or abuse, his education, or any other information that would tend to prove why life without the possibility of parole was too harsh.

That changed in People v. Williams, in which the court ruled that mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles who committed murder violated the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The Williams decision took its cue from the U.S. Supreme Court case Miller v. Alabama, which made the same ruling in 2012, stating that when dealing with juvenile murder defendants, the court must “take into account how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Illinois’ ban will apply retroactively. This means not only will future juvenile murder offenders be afforded the opportunity to provide evidence showing why a mandatory life sentence is too severe of a punishment, but those already serving life sentences for murders convicted when they were youths will have the right to have their sentences revisited.

Illinois Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

Certain crimes committed in Illinois – including murder, rape and aggravated assault – impose mandatory minimum sentences. First degree murder, for example, has a mandatory sentence of imprisonment for the defendant’s natural life. This does not include any additional time imposed for aggravating factors. Second degree murder carries a minimum of 4-20 years. The judge has little discretion when determining the type and length of the sentence. The judge can consider mitigating factors, which could provide a slight reduction in the length of the sentence, but for the most part the judge’s hands are tied.

In crimes that do not impose mandatory minimum sentences, the judge is responsible for determining the type and length of the sentence, which can run the gamut from probation to imprisonment. The judge’s sentencing decision is heavily influenced by prosecution and defense attorney arguments, including any mitigating factors the defense attorney can show that necessitate a reduction in sentence.

While the Williams decision is good news for the hundreds of Illinois inmates who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for crimes committed as juveniles, mandatory sentencing highlights the importance of hiring an experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney who understands the need to begin mounting an aggressive defense immediately.

Because the judge’s hands are bound by the law, the real defense in mandatory minimum cases begins when charges are filed. The charges filed lie in the hands of the prosecution. That is why you need a criminal defense attorney who not only understands the law and can build a successful defense, but who is also a skilled negotiator who can work with the prosecution to get the charges reduced to one without a mandatory minimum sentence. 


Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney

An experienced criminal defense attorney can mean the difference between a minimal prison sentence and years spent behind bars. If you have been arrested for murder, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping or any other crime that imposes mandatory minimum sentences, your first phone call should be to a Chicago criminal defense attorney. Avoiding mandatory minimums requires skilled negotiation with the prosecution to seek a reduction in charges or, if that is not possible, an experienced litigator who can cast reasonable doubt on the prosecution’s case to avoid conviction or prove mitigating factors to the court.  Contact the Chicago, Skokie or DuPage offices of the Law Offices of David L. Freidberg, P.C.,  today at 312-560-7100 to schedule a free consultation. We are available 24/7 for your convenience.

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