Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed April 19, 2012

People v. Clemons, 2012 IL 107821

Appellate citation: No. 4-06-0823 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23).

      JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride specially concurred, with opinion.

      This decision deals with the problems created by the legislature’s adoption of overlapping provisions that enhance the length of sentences based on the involvement of firearms in offenses.

      In 2006, an incident occurred at a mobile home park in Urbana that resulted in charges against this defendant for armed robbery while armed with a firearm and home invasion while armed with a firearm, both Class X offenses. In July of that year, Clemons was convicted of both crimes by a Champaign County jury, and the circuit court imposed concurrent terms of 25 years’ imprisonment. The appellate court initially affirmed the convictions and sentences in 2008, but later was directed by the Illinois Supreme Court to reconsider its judgment in light of People v. Hauschild, 226 Ill. 2d 63 (2007), a decision concerning proportionate penalties which the supreme court had filed while Clemons’ appeal was pending before the appellate court.

      This appeal involves only sentencing issues. Both crimes of which defendant had been found guilty had initial sentencing ranges of 6 to 30 years, plus an added 15-year enhancement for use of a firearm (added by statute in 2000), which made each range, in effect, 21 to 45 years. Clemons challenged his 25-year sentence for armed robbery with a firearm by making a comparison to the sentencing range for another offense which was not involved here and with which he had not been charged, namely, armed violence predicated on robbery with a category I or II weapon. He complained that this other crime had elements that were identical to those of armed robbery with a firearm, for which he was convicted, but had a lower sentencing range of a mere 15 to 30 years (as compared to 21 to 45 years). He argued that this discrepancy violated the proportionality clause of the Illinois Constitution, which states that penalties must be determined according to the seriousness of the offense. Relying also on case law, he claimed that penalties for offenses with identical elements must be identical.

      In the Hauschild case, the Illinois Supreme Court approved the identical-elements test for claims of unconstitutionally disproportionate penalties. A few months thereafter, on October 23, 2007, the legislature eliminated the overlap between armed robbery and armed violence. Pursuant to the supreme court’s direction in the case at issue here, the appellate court applied the identical-elements test and remanded the cause to the circuit court for resentencing under the armed robbery statute as it existed before the 2000 effective date of the firearm enhancements, thus making the offender subject to a sentencing range of only 6 to 30 years, rather than 21 to 45 years. The State appealed, urging the abandonment of the identical-elements test.

      In this decision, the supreme court cited stare decisis, followed Hauschild, and declined to overrule the identical-elements test. The supreme court rejected claims that the identical-elements test had become unworkable, holding, instead, that it is an objective, straightforward and bright-line test. The court also noted that remanding for resentencing within a range of 15 to 30 years as provided for under the armed violence statute would be improper because the defendant had never been charged with that offense.

      The appellate court’s remand for resentencing was affirmed. The offender’s concurrent term of 25 years for home invasion still stands.