People v. Wooters

Decision Date18 November 1999
Docket NumberNo. 83595.,83595.
Citation722 N.E.2d 1102,243 Ill.Dec. 33,188 Ill.2d 500
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellant, v. Jessica WOOTERS, Appellee.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

Gerry R. Arnold, State's Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor, Mt. Vernon, Jim Ryan, Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Div., Chicago, State's Attorney Marion County, Salem, for the People.

E. Joyce Randolph, Asst. State Appellate Defender, Mt. Vernon, for Jessica Wooters.

Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a bench trial, the circuit court of Marion County convicted defendant, Jessica Wooters, of murdering her infant son. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 1996). Section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1998)) prescribes mandatory life imprisonment for any person 17 years or older convicted of murdering a child less than 12 years old, provided the offender is not sentenced to death.

The State did not seek the death penalty for defendant, and the circuit court refused to sentence defendant to a life term in prison. The circuit court ruled that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) violates article I, section 11, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 11), because section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) prevents the sentencing court from assessing any evidence that would mitigate against a term of natural life in prison. The court subsequently sentenced defendant to 25 years' imprisonment. The State appealed directly to this court. 134 Ill.2d R. 603. We agree with the legislature's determination that the murder of a child under age 12 by an individual age 17 or older (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1998)) warrants life imprisonment. However, we affirm the 25-year sentence imposed by the circuit court on the sole basis that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) violates the single subject clause of the Illinois Constitution. Ill. Const.1970, art. IV, § 8.

BACKGROUND

In 1996, the State of Illinois charged defendant Jessica Wooters by information with first degree murder. 720 ILCS 5/9-1(a)(2) (West 1996). The State alleged that defendant, who was then 20 years old, struck her 19-day-old son in the head, "knowing the act created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm, thereby causing [his] death."

Before trial, defendant twice moved the circuit court to declare section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) of the Unified Code of Corrections unconstitutional. 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1998). In pertinent part, section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) states:

"(A) Except as otherwise provided in the statute defining the offense, a sentence of imprisonment for a felony shall be a determinate sentence set by the court under this Section, according to the following limitations:
(1) for first degree murder,
* * * * * *
(c) the court shall sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment when the death penalty is not imposed if the defendant,
* * * * * *
(ii) is a person who, at the time of the commission of the murder, had attained the age of 17 or more and is found guilty of murdering an individual under 12 years of age; or, irrespective of the defendant's age at the time of the commission of the offense, is found guilty of murdering more than one victim[.]" 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 1998).

Defendant argued that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii): violated the eighth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. VIII); transgressed the constitutionally mandated separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary (Ill. Const.1970, art. II, § 1); and denied defendant due process and equal protection of the laws (U.S. Const., amends. V, XIV; Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 2). In addition, defendant maintained that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) violated article I, section 11, of the Illinois Constitution. Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 11. Article I, section 11, provides that penalties must be established "according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship." Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 11. According to defendant, the mandatory life sentence in section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) was a "disproportionate" penalty that ignored the directive set forth in article I, section 11, to establish penalties with the aim of returning an offender to the community at large. Defendant's motions were denied.

Following a bench trial, the court found defendant guilty as charged. The court also allowed defendant leave to file additional authority concerning the constitutionality of section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii).

At a subsequent hearing, the circuit court ruled that the life sentence prescribed by section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) violated article I, section 11. The court opined that the General Assembly enacted section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) without regard to the "objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship," since a mandatory life sentence deprives an offender of any chance to rejoin society. The court found no evidence in the legislative history that the General Assembly contemplated the rehabilitative potential of an offender sentenced pursuant to section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii). Also, the statute interfered with the judiciary's obligation, when sentencing a criminal defendant, to consider mitigating evidence and the defendant's rehabilitative potential. The court concluded that sentencing the defendant in this case to life imprisonment "strikes [the court] as inherently unfair." Finding section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) unconstitutional, the court conducted a sentencing hearing and sentenced defendant to 25 years' imprisonment.

The State filed the instant appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 603 (134 Ill.2d R. 603).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The court reviews de novo a lower court order declaring a statute unconstitutional. Wilson v. Department of Revenue, 169 Ill.2d 306, 310, 214 Ill.Dec. 849, 662 N.E.2d 415 (1996).

ANALYSIS
A. Whether Section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) Violates Article I, Section 11, of the Illinois Constitution

Before this court, the State argues that the enactment of section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) lies well within the General Assembly's authority to define criminal conduct and to prescribe suitable punishment for that conduct. Defendant counters that by mandating a life prison sentence for adult murderers of children under 12 years of age, the legislature violated its obligation to set penalties "with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship." Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 11.

We begin our analysis with the presumption that all legislative enactments are constitutional. People v. Dunigan, 165 Ill.2d 235, 244, 209 Ill.Dec. 53, 650 N.E.2d 1026 (1995); see also People v. Wages, 261 Ill.App.3d 576, 588, 199 Ill.Dec. 59, 633 N.E.2d 855 (1994). Defendant bears the burden of overcoming that presumption. Dunigan, 165 Ill.2d at 244, 209 Ill.Dec. 53, 650 N.E.2d 1026.

In People v. Taylor, 102 Ill.2d 201, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059 (1984), and People v. Dunigan, 165 Ill.2d 235, 209 Ill.Dec. 53, 650 N.E.2d 1026 (1995), this court held that mandatory life imprisonment can be harmonized with article I, section 11. In Taylor, the circuit court ordered defendants Andre and Dorothy Taylor to serve life sentences after the defendants' convictions for the murder of two individuals. The murders occurred during an armed robbery executed by the defendants. The circuit court sentenced the defendants pursuant to the version of section 5-8-1 then in existence, which required life imprisonment for anyone guilty of murdering more than one victim. Ill. Rev.Stat.1981, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(1)(c).

The appellate court reversed, holding that the statute usurped the trial judge's responsibility to weigh mitigating evidence and any evidence of rehabilitative potential when sentencing a defendant. According to the appellate court, the trial court's obligation to consider these matters arose both from the prescriptions of article I, section 11, and from the separation of powers clause, embodied in article II, section 1, of the state constitution. Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, § 1.

This court reversed the appellate court and reinstated defendants' life sentences. Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 210, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059. Preliminarily, the Taylor court noted that the power to define criminal conduct and to determine the appropriate punishment for that conduct rests with the legislature. Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 205, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059; see also People v. Hickman, 163 Ill.2d 250, 259, 206 Ill.Dec. 94, 644 N.E.2d 1147 (1994); People ex rel. Carey v. Chrastka, 83 Ill.2d 67, 79, 46 Ill.Dec. 156, 413 N.E.2d 1269 (1980); Wages, 261 Ill.App.3d at 588, 199 Ill.Dec. 59, 633 N.E.2d 855. Moreover, although the dictates of article I, section 11, apply to the judiciary, they apply with equal force to the legislature, albeit with a different effect.1 Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 205-06, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059.

As this court explained in People v. Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 205-06, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059:

"Section 11 is directed to the legislature in its function of declaring what conduct is criminal and the penalties for the conduct. It is directed to the judiciary in that it requires courts not to abuse discretion in imposing sentences within the framework set by the legislature. [Citations.]"

The Taylor court observed that article I, section 11, bound the General Assembly to the twin objectives of "restoring an offender to useful citizenship and of providing a penalty according to the seriousness of the offense." Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 206, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059. Critically, however, the Taylor court also held that "there is no indication that the possibility of rehabilitating an offender was to be given greater weight and consideration than the seriousness of the offense in determining a proper penalty." Taylor, 102 Ill.2d at 206, 80 Ill.Dec. 76, 464 N.E.2d 1059.

The court concluded that,...

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