1st District Appellate Court Reverses de Facto Life Sentence for Defendant With Intellectual Disabilities

This case is a must read for any Illinois defense counsel who is representing a defendant with either a proportionate penalties issue or a defendant on a serious case who has intellectual deficits.

This case has bounced between the trial court and the appellate court repeatedly.

In this case, the defendant was originally tried for predatory criminal sexual assault. He had severe cognitive deficits and was classified as mentally retarded based on IQ and other testing. Despite this and what appeared to be a vigorous fight by trial counsel, the defendant was found to be fit, had a motion to suppress statements denied, and was found guilty. Because he had a prior Aggravated Criminal Sexual Assault, he was sentenced to natural life.

The original sentencing judge did not want to do do:

“[T]he parties recognize that the court’s hands are tied because of the prior conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault, which makes this conviction one for which he must receive a sentence of life imprisonment without parole. The facts of the cause certainly warrant a substantial sentence here. It would not be the sentence that the court is required to give, had I any discretion, but I must follow the law nonetheless. The legislature has determined a second aggravated criminal sexual assault in one’s lifetime means what they say it means.”

The defendant appealed and lost. He then after some years filed a 2-1401 Petition challenging the constitutionality of his sentence based on his disabilities. The trial court denied the petition and this was appealed. The appellate court reversed and sent the case back stating that the mandatory sentence was a proportionate penalties violation.
The appellate court vacated the defendant’s sentence and remanded to the trial court for resentencing to give the trial court discretion to impose a term of years.

In re-sentencing in front of a different judge (the original judge was no longer assigned to the criminal division), the hearing was brief in presentation and arguments. The judge was given records to review. When all was said and done, the judge sentenced the defendant to 50 years in prison to be served at 85%.

This led to the current appeal. Here, the appellate court held that this de facto life sentence is unconstitutional as applied to him under the proportionate penalties clause. They held that this sentence was without a “record sufficient to assess the unique factors that can impact the culpability of the intellectually disabled.”

They essentially held that the hearing was so brief, the record did not establish that the trial court had a proper opportunity to consider (or that it was considered) the defendant’s intellectual disability and determined that the defendant could not be rehabilitated.

The appellate court vacated this sentence and remanded for a new sentencing hearing before a different judge. The appellate court also gave some sage advice to defense counsel on preparation for a new sentencing hearing that makes this a necessary read.

The case is People v. William Coty, 2018 IL App (1st) 162383.


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