Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed October 18, 2012
People v. Geiger, 2012 IL 113181
Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (3d) 090688.
JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Freeman specially concurred, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride dissented, with opinion.
This Kankakee County appeal involves a sentencing challenge. The underlying conviction is not at issue.
When he was 15 years old, this defendant had testified for the State at the trial of a fellow gang member for a 1999 double murder. There was a codefendant in that case who was retried in 2008, and, as to him, Geiger later refused to testify, claiming his fifth amendment privilege. The circuit court advised him that there was no reasonable basis for this claim because of his prior testimony and because of his own earlier statement to police. (His appointed attorney had argued to the contrary.) The prosecution made an offer of use immunity, but defendant still refused to testify and was given a 20-year sentence for direct criminal contempt. The appellate court affirmed.
The accused at the trial at which Geiger would not testify was later convicted and that result has been affirmed on appeal. In Geiger’s own appeal, he no longer challenged his conviction for direct criminal contempt, and conceded that he was mistaken in his belief that he had a fifth amendment right not to testify. However, he challenged the 20-year sentence imposed as being excessive.
The supreme court noted that the power to punish for contempt is discretionary with the judiciary and that there is no sentencing classification or sentencing range set by the legislature. Reviewing courts bear a special responsibility for preventing abuse of their discretionary contempt power, and the supreme court may, in appropriate circumstances, revise sentences inflicted on contemnors. The supreme court also noted that there was some evidence that the refusal to testify might have been driven by fear of gang retaliation. The supreme court found the 20-year term manifestly disproportionate and unreasonably excessive. The cause was remanded to the circuit court for the opportunity to enter a more reasonable sentence.