Wrongfully convicted men weigh in on Clutter’s proposed legislation to Kwame Raoul

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-Just recently, this blog covered Bill Clutter’s crusade to get Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to consider creating an independent statewide conviction integrity unit that would review possible cases of wrongful convictions. Clutter is best known for his co-founding of the Illinois Innocence project. The justifications for this legislation are laid out in that blog if you would wish to review them. Illinois has had a specifically dark history of wrongful convictions leading to lengthy sentences and sometimes even the death penalty for innocent human beings. In lots of cases that were carried out before Illinois lawmakers passed a bill heavily restricting the use of jailhouse snitches by prosecutors, many men and women were convicted on those jailhouse testimonies. And as covered in last weeks blog, jailhouse testimony is notoriously unreliable. Jailhouse testimony is the leading cause nationally for wrongful convictions, however it is not the only way innocent human beings find themselves behind bars.

Now, as Katie Smith of the Northwestern Herald reports, formerly wrongfully convicted persons are weighing in on Clutter’s proposed idea. One of those men is McHenry County resident Gary Gauger. In April of 1993, Ruth and Morrie Gauger were murdered and robbed by biker outlaws James Schneider and Randall Miller. However, the police had another suspect in mind: The victims son Gary Gauger himself. Despite little evidence or motive, the police pinned Gauger as their man early on and any evidence found thereafter would be manipulated to support their theory. A classic case of confirmation bias. Gary was tried and convicted for the murder of his parents and sentenced to lethal injection. As he said regarding the police’s confirmation bias; “The police get a theory on what happened and they don’t seem to care if it doesn’t match the facts.” Finally 3.5 years later with the help of Northwestern University Law Professor Lawrence Marshall, ( founder of the Center for Wrongful Convictions) was Gary able to successfully appeal his conviction and get it overturned in 1996. The police would then find more evidence pointing to the real killers, Schneider and Miller. By that point, Gary had spent nine months on death row. It would seem a statewide integrity unit filled with objective participants from diverse sections of government would help out in cases like Gauger’s, where the police had already made up their minds the second they reviewed the case and didn’t have the proper funding to look into his conviction anyway.

Gauger’s case is not the only one of its kind in McHenry County the last few decades. As Smith notes, “Gauger’s case is one of two in McHenry County in which perjury or false accusations, official misconduct, and false confessions have led to convictions and subsequent exonerations since 1989, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.” The other McHenry man wrongfully convicted and imprisoned was Mario Casciaro, who in March of 2013 was convicted of the murder of Johnsburg teenager Brian Carrick. After being sentenced to 26 years in Menard Correctional Center, he was released 22 years into his sentence after the Second District Appellate Court overturned his conviction. Casciaro himself believes that McHenry county in its current form is not impartial, progressive, or big enough to create a unit they themselves could run locally. He believes a statewide integrity unit such as the one Clutter proposed, would be an important step. Though he didn’t shut off the idea that McHenry one day could create its own independent integrity unit. “McHenry County specifically is probably a little bit too small right now, but in the future, if there’s continued growth in the population, I imagine there should be an independent conviction investigation unit.”

As the article and this blog noted earlier, the Illinois justice system has a dark history of stealing away the lives of innocent people for crimes they didn’t commit. A number of innocent people have been executed unjustly and there’s no amending those mistakes. From Smith, “Illinois has a history of wrongful convictions. Former Gov. George Ryan labeled the state’s system of capital punishment “haunted by the demon of error” when he halted executions in 2000. By the time Illinois abolished the Death Penalty in 2011, wrongful death sentences imposed on 20 people had been reversed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.” Some systems have been set in place that may provide precedent for the type of system Clutter is calling for. In 2012, Former States Attorney General Anita Alvarez assembled a Cook County based Integrity unit that reviewed applications from convicted felons. Although many did not meet the criteria for further review, the unit still overturned seventy convictions, unit spokeswomen Tandra Simonton explained.

Further, as the article notes, a similar system to Alvarez’s has been implemented in Lake County. That unit helped exonerate Jason Strong and overturned his conviction which jailed him for the killing of Carpentersville resident Mary Kate Sunderlin. Strong was understandably shocked at how all this had happened to him, and that his life would have possibly been destroyed for a crime he didn’t commit. This has naturally helped shape his views on integrity units and his gratefulness to the one that helped release him. “For a case to be considered by Lake County’s panel, the defendant’s claim must contain new evidence that was not known at the time of trial, previously untested evidence, or some other affirmation of innocence. Strong is a proponent for the conviction integrity panel that helped exonerate him, and attributes its success to objective thinking within the Lake County State’s Attorney’s Office.” Strong went on to say “I admire that, and I think that if you have that kind of quality in a prosecutor then you’re going to get a better integrity unit.”

All three of the wrongfully convicted men interviewed for Smith’s article believe integrity units are key in helping stop the epidemic of wrongly convicted persons. However while two of the three come from the same county, the other comes from a different geographical and socioeconomic context. Jason Strong comes from Lake County which seems to have a decently funded integrity unit. But Gary Gauger and Mario Casciaro argue that their home McHenry county doesn’t have that same type of funding, or integrity for that matter. “Gauger’s experience, however, has left him with doubts about whether McHenry County could handle a unit of its own.”  ‘How do you get politics out of McHenry County?’ Gauger said. ‘It’s difficult.’ The article also notes that, “Casciaro has also been critical of how McHenry County prosecutors handled his case, going as far as to call State’s Attorney Patrick Kenneally “delusional.”

It would seem wise to listen to what these men have to say, as they have been through the rigors of the injustice of our justice system. Integrity units are important. Are local ones like the systems in Cook and Lake County enough? I don’t think so, as that idea doesn’t transfer over to counties with significantly lesser populations and lesser fundings. State based integrity units filled with objective quality well picked representatives seems like the most logical and ethical option.

by Jake Morask

Parking Ticket Victory – Chalk it Up to the Fourth Amendment

By: Tim Black

chalked-tire-WikimediaAny avid reader of the LauraLaw Blog knows just how much I love the underdog.  Whether you’re nabbed by a red light camera or inundated with parking tickets, I feel your pain; and if you fight like hell to get out of those tickets, I stand and applaud your efforts.  I am a true believer in fighting parking tickets and have long championed those who take on the system.  One of my parking ticket fighting heroes has been local attorney Todd Kooperman, about whom I wrote in late 2017.  (Update: On March 11, 2019, the Justice Walker of the First District Appellate Court of Illinois delivered a blow to the City of Chicago in the Todd Kooperman case, overturning the decision of the City’s Department of Administrative Hearings and requiring the City “to post signs far enough in advance of ticketing to give reasonable notice to persons who try to comply with the ordinance.”  Congratulations Mr. Kooperman – you are a hero.)  Joining Mr. Kooperman on the Mt. Rushmore of parking ticket pugilists is Saginaw, Michigan hero Alison Taylor.

On 15 separate occasions from 2014 to 2017, Ms. Taylor parked her car on the streets of Saginaw and returned to find a parking ticket.  Pursuant to Saginaw Police practice – a practice common in many municipalities – the Saginaw Police parking enforcement officer would patrol the parking area and mark a small line of chalk on the tire of each parked car.  When she returned after the permitted time for parking, if the chalk mark had not moved, she would issue a parking ticket.  That practice is known as “chalking,” and I’m sure you are all too familiar with its existence; I know I am.  On the 15th ticket, Alison Taylor filed a §1983 lawsuit against the City of Saginaw, et al. in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan alleging that the practice of “chalking” violated her Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search.  As I’m sure you were expecting to hear, the District Court tossed the case on the City’s motion to dismiss under the theory that “chalking” is a Fourth Amendment search, but it is reasonable under the community caretaker exception.  In other words, even though marking a chalk line on your tire is considered a search of your vehicle, the police don’t need a warrant because it fulfills their duty as caretakers of the community.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals was having none of it.  Unable to resist a choice “chalk” pun, Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald drafted a beautiful Opinion reversing the trial court and parking this case right back in the District Court.  In essence, she found that “chalking” constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment because it involves the police trespassing upon a constitutionally protected area (your car) to obtain information (whether you’ve moved your car).  Unaccepting of the City’s argument that the search was reasonable under community caretaker exception, Judge Donald found that the City failed to establish that the search had any connection to public safety and its sole purpose was to gather evidence used to generate revenue.  The search is unreasonable.  The case was reversed and remanded.  Alison Taylor is a hero.

The Court was careful to clarify that the opinion does not say the community caretaker exception could never apply, and it does not say that there are no other exceptions under which “chalking” could fall, only that based on the arguments put forth by the City of Saginaw on the facts in this case, the search was unreasonable.  We will keep our eyes peeled for updates to this case, and I am always looking for parking ticket warriors out there fighting the good fight.  So, stay tuned to LauraLaw’s blog and as always, if you should find yourself under investigation or under arrest, contact us and one of our skilled attorneys will be happy to discuss your case.

**UPDATE (05.01.2019):  Two days after publishing the original Opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals took the very rare action of issuing an Amended Opinion to clarify its ruling.  The Amended Opinion is exactly the same as its original, except for the addition of the following paragraph to the Opinion’s conclusion:

“Taking the allegations in Taylor’s complaint as true, we hold that chalking is a search under the Fourth Amendment, specifically under the Supreme Court’s decision in Jones. This does not mean, however, that chalking violates the Fourth Amendment. Rather, we hold, based on the pleading stage of this litigation, that two exceptions to the warrant requirement—the “community caretaking” exception and the motor-vehicle exception—do not apply here. Our holding extends no further than this. When the record in this case moves beyond the pleadings stage, the City is, of course, free to argue anew that one or both of those exceptions do apply, or that some other exception to the warrant requirement might apply.”

Basically, the Sixth Circuit is pumping the brakes on the national reaction to the ruling.  If you read a lot of legal opinions, you know that judges often go to great lengths to apply their ruling to the specific facts put in front of the court, and not to extend their ruling to all other possible iterations – which makes sense.  Judges are not fortune tellers.  Practically speaking, this clarification says that the arguments put forth by the Government, in this case, are not viable exceptions to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement, but there might be other exceptions that were not argued here.  Or there might not.  I don’t expect this is the last we hear about “chalking,” so stay tuned and keep fighting your parking tickets.

Innocence Project Co-Founder Calls On Kwame Raoul to Create a Unit to Help Free Wrongfully Convicted Prisoners

imageFrom Dana Vollmer of Northern Public Radio, Springfield private detective Bill Clutter is asking Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul to create a statewide unit to review possible cases of wrongfully convicted prisoners. Clutter is most known for being a co-founder of the Illinois innocence project, which has helped free a dozen wrongfully convicted persons in the state since the organizations founding in 2001. Clutter cited the Cook County Conviction Integrity unit as a precedent for the unit he’s looking to see created. That unit has helped free 54 wrongfully convicted persons in Cook County. However as Clutter notes, Cook County is one of the biggest counties in the country, and most other counties don’t have the financial ability to create a truly independent review unit. Local law enforcement is also unlikely to do much about wrongfully convicted prisoners due to a the intricate web of connections in these smaller communities. “Local legal communities are tight knit,” Clutter said. “Prosecutors that have the role of state’s attorneys tend to protect their predecessors and even judges to some extent. It’s just human nature.” And since nonprofits such as the Innocence Project have a hard time doing much without cooperation from local law enforcement, Clutter would like to see Raoul step in and assemble a team of independent lawyers and detectives to review cases that might have resulted in wrongful convictions.

According to Vollmer, The first case that Clutter is asking Raoul to review, is that of Thomas McMillan. McMillan was a Springfield man who was convicted for the 1989 murder of Melissa Koontz on the basis of testimony from jailhouse informants. Jailhouse informant testimony is notoriously unreliable for many reasons, one being that the informant is highly incentivized to give anything valuable to law enforcement even if it’s fake as they can strike a better deal for themselves. Just last November, Illinois lawmakers overrode former Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto on Bill 1830, which reformed the way jailhouse informants can be used by prosecutors. This bill gave Illinois arguably the strongest jailhouse informant transparency laws in the nation. Under the new bill, Prosecutors now have to disclose that they are using jailhouse informants at least 30 days before the trial, and they have to reveal to the defense what benefits they are planning on giving to the informant in exchange for their testimony. After that, Prosecutors will then have to prove to a Judge that an informants testimony is reliable and admissible. Clutter believes that with these new laws, McMillan’s case should be reviewed as so much of the conviction hinged on jailhouse informant testimony. According to the Innocence Project, Jailhouse informants are the number one cause of wrongful convictions nationally and have played a role in 16% of DNA based exonerations. In Illinois alone, 17 people have been wrongfully convicted due to Jailhouse informants, serving a combined 227 years. 

 

by Jake Morask

Explaining the Real ID

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  • Illinois residents now have the chance to apply for their real ID cards, which will make Illinois ID’s compliant with the Real ID Act of 2005. This was enacted in the wake of 9/11 and set strict federal standards that ID’s would have to comply with. However, it has taken some time for states to be able to complete the process, and we’re nearing the finish line. The newer ID’s can be requested now that it’s the first week of April and you must have one to be able to get on a plane by October 2020. Here is a good explanation of what a Real ID is, what it looks like, it’s purpose, etc… The acts aim was at decreasing terrorism by basically making it harder and more complicated to access domestic flights. Under the new act, state agencies like the DMV require more paperwork when considering the proof of a person’s residency and social security number. There is also new technology in the ID’s that will be supposedly make them harder to counterfeit. To signify compliance, the Real ID’s will have a gold or black star on the front. Though there are a few states,(not Illinois) that give compliant licenses without the star. It’s important to note, that you don’t need a Real ID if you’re not going to be flying domestically. It is for accessing federal facilities like airports. Just remember the date 10/1/20 as the marker for when you need to present a Real ID to access a domestic flight, although a few states were granted extensions.(Illinois is not one of them) A Real ID cannot be used as a substitute for a passport when attempting to access international flights. A few other things the new ID’s won’t affect are things like Federal benefits, voting, being licensed to drive, accessing federal facilities that do not require Real ID’s, accessing hospitals, law enforcement and constitutionally protected activities such as access to court proceedings. WQUAD 8 interviewed Illinois Deputy Press Secretary Henry Haupt who explained that the public would have to be patient when applying. “We are asking people to please be patient,” Haupt said. “We want to level with the public so they understand that the application process for a REAL ID takes longer than the standard driver’s license or ID card because more documents are required by the federal government.” The article notes that “Residents who want to switch to the new IDs will need to bring along proof of identity and lawful presence, proof of social security number, two forms of residency documents, and proof of signature, which can be provided through a current license or ID card.”

Western Illinois Correctional Center Staff being sued for fatal beating of Inmate

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From Shannon Heffernan of WBEZ, the family of the now deceased Larry Earvin are suing the guards at Western Illinois Correctional Center for their role in his death. From the article, “Larry Earvin died after an “altercation” with prison staff last May, according to coroner’s records obtained by WBEZ. Earvin had 15 rib fractures and multiple abrasions and hemorrhages. He died from blunt trauma to the chest and abdomen. The coroner ruled his death a homicide.” The lawsuit alleges that the guards in their beating of Earvin were intending not to restore order, but to inflict a cruel beating on a defenseless human being. The lawsuit also notes that poor treatment of inmates by guards is common and that Earvin’s beating and subsequent death are symptoms of a diseased system. Per Heffernan, a number of the staff involved have been put on leave.  “According to documents obtained by WBEZ, four prison staff members were placed on leave following the incident: Sgt. Willie Hedden, Lts. Benjamin Burnett and Blake Haubrich, and Correctional Officer Alex Banta. According to the the Illinois Department of Corrections, they remain on leave.” The FBI claims it’s investigating the incident, which is the excuse the Department of Corrections used when it refused to release video and documents about the case. However, according to Heffernan, “WBEZ appealed to the attorney general’s public access counselor, who determined IDOC was not complying with the Freedom of Information Act when it withheld reports about Earvin’s death.”

I truly hope that Larry Earvin’s family wins this lawsuit against the shameful prison staff of the Western Illinois Correctional Center. Making the whole situation all the more tragic, is the fact that Larry Earvin was a 65 year old human being being held in prison for theft of less than $300! He was due to be let out in a few months. Poor treatment of prisoners is wrong regardless of what those prisoners did, but the context of Earvin’s crime makes it hard not to feel pure sadness and disgust at his murder. Make no mistake, this is a homicide and the people responsible deserve to be in jail. Unfortunately in this country, law enforcement are more likely to get paid leave for murdering someone rather than being forced to face the consequences of their actions. There’s no doubt that many security guards are just decent humans going about their jobs but there is also no doubt that abuse towards inmates is a systemic issue that plagues the whole countries prison system. Inmates are seen by the public as seemingly less than human, like iron bars are the great divider between who is worthy of rights and who isn’t.

Well, Larry Earvin was a human being who loved and was loved, and he deserved much better than 15 fractured ribs and death from the cowards who ganged up on him and ended his life. He deserved better than, and he deserves justice now.

by Jake Morask

Judge overturns Deerfield’s ban on assault weapons

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According to Karen Berkowitz of the Pioneer Press, on Friday a Lake County Circuit Judge ruled that with it’s assault ban ordinance last year, Deerfield defied Illinois legislation enacted 5 years prior that gave exclusive power to the state in regards to weapon regulation. From the article, “Judge Luis Berrones issued a permanent injunction blocking the village from enforcing its ordinance. In the ruling, Berrones wrote that the plaintiff gun owners have “a clearly ascertainable right to not be subjected to a preempted and unenforceable ordinance” that prohibits possession of assault weapons, imposes financial penalties for keeping them and allows their property to be confiscated.” The ban was enacted in April of 2018 after a recent string of mass shootings caused Deerfield Trustees to worry about their villages safety. The ban included weapons such as the AR-15, AK-47, and Uzi. As Berkowitz notes, local gun owners were very quick to file lawsuits because as mentioned earlier, the Village had made some costly mistakes in when it decided to enact its ban. “The Illinois legislature had given municipalities until July 19 of that year(2013) to regulate assault weapons before a new Illinois Concealed Carry Act and an amended Firearm Owner’s Identification Card Act eliminated their ability to do so.” So, after July 19 of 2013 the villages window of opportunity to regulate/ban assault weapons was basically missed for good. However, the village tried to play another angle in arguing that it’s ban didn’t overstep Illinois legislation. They attempted to argue that the ban was not a new ordinance, but an amendment to a prior ordinance enacted before July 19 that defined assault weapons and required safe storage and transportation within the village. This would of course make the ordinance in compliance with Illinois legislation. So, the question was, could the ban on assault weapons really be called an amendment to the ordinance such as the one enacted before July 19 of 2013, or a whole new thing altogether? Judge Berrones however ruled that the ordinance was not an amendment but a new ordinance, dashing Deerfield’s hopes for the ban standing. Here’s Deerfield’s statement about the ruling: “It appears that the judge focused less on Deerfield’s actions and more on the actions of the Illinois state legislature back in 2013, the judge took issue with the way in which the state legislature drafted the state statute, and he read into the statute a complete preemption of home rule authority to regulate assault weapons. We continue to believe that these weapons have no place in our community and that our common-sense assault weapon regulations are legal and were properly enacted. In the meantime, however, we will abide by the court’s ruling and continue to not enforce our ordinance.”

Marijuana Legalization is coming to Illinois sooner than the Public may think

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According to Brody Woodell of wquad 8, legal Marijuana in Illinois is closer to happening than the public may think. The main reason being of course the recent election of Governor J.B Pritzker, who has stated in the past that he supports complete legalization mainly for financial purposes. He believes legalization may provide up to 700 billion dollars tax in revenue, with which as Chris Lindsay of the Illinois Marijuana Policy Project notes can be used to fund programs that are financially strapped and need support. From the article,  “Will it pay for everything? No,” Lindsay said. “But will it pay for some important programs that would otherwise go completely unfunded? Yeah.” Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is also in support of legalization, and so is most importantly 60% of the population according to a 2016 gallup poll. The article mainly sticks to financial issues as reasons for legalization but there are also plenty of social justice related issues that are just as important, if not more. Minorities have been targeted and jailed much more often than white people, despite similar usage rates. Keeping people out of jail and out of personal financial trouble is alone worth legalization even without considering public financial issues. Overall the case for legal weed is overwhelming.

Illinois Doctors want say in Marijuana Debate

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Per Erick Stock of Wglt.org, Illinois doctors want a voice in the states debate over recreational Marijuana. The Illinois State Medical Society and its president Paul Pederson have expressed concern about legalization, although they haven’t tipped their hand about what their stance towards it would actually be. Pederson cites the usually warnings about marijuana; that it is a gateway drug, addictive, and can impair one’s thought process. Complicating matters further is the fact that since it’s a federally banned substance, there can be no controlled study of its effects. According to the article, before the group takes a formal stance, they will hold a forum in  Peoria on April 6th to go over the possible pros and cons of legal Marijuana. It’s fair for doctors to want a seat at the table on this issue, but whether they like it or not it seems like legal pot will be coming as recently elected governor J.B. Pritzker is for it. There’s also more to the issue than health risks. Marijuana may pose some health threats like Pederson warns but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal. Cigarettes and alcohol pose worse health risks but we will never see those substances outright banned. Personal freedom, privacy, and bodily autonomy should play important roles in this debate.

Recreational Cannabis Closer to Legalization in Illinois

By:  Timothy Black

american-flag-marijuana-leaf-vector-clipartIt’s high time Illinois joins the blitz of states legalizing recreational cannabis.  Earlier this month, with the swearing-in of J.B. Pritzker as the State’s 43rd Governor, “the conversation has shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when” recreational cannabis will be legalized, as Jaclyn Driscoll of WNIU bluntly stated.  To that end, the joint team of Chicago’s State Senator Heather Steans and Chicago’s State Representative Kelly Cassidy hosted a Town Hall Meeting in Springfield on January 28th to lay out the terms they plant to roll into a Bill to be introduced to the General Assembly, and to field questions about their proposal.

Central to their proposal for legalizing recreational cannabis is a set of rules designed to promote responsible use among adults.  Specifically, if the bill does not go up in smoke, adults 21 years of age and older would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams and grow up to 5 plants of marijuana.  Unlike alcohol, marijuana “bars” would be prohibited, but similar to alcohol, teenagers caught driving under the influence of cannabis would not only be charged with DUI but would also lose driving privileges.

A secondary, and equally important goal of legalizing recreational cannabis is to lay the groundwork for undoing some of the destruction caused by the War on Drugs and its policies.  To achieve that, the law would automatically expunge the records of low-level marijuana possession and dealing convictions.  Then, the tax revenue would fund community development and impoverished neighborhoods.

While the bill has yet to be introduced, its merits will be debated ad nauseum.  Stay tuned to LauraLaw for more updates on the battle for legalizing recreational cannabis.  We will continue to try to clear the haze and give you the facts along the way.

In the meantime, if you have a criminal record of any kind, we here at LauraLaw advocate that you look into the sealing or expungement of that record.  If you are eligible, it’s best practice not to wait.  We can be to your criminal record what Visine is to your eyes.  Contact us now for a consultation and we will be happy to help guide you through the arduous process.  Likewise, if you have been charged with any crime – cannabis-related or not – contact us immediately for a consultation.

 

What Is a Life Sentence?

 

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Opinion Piece by: Jake Morask

Per Dana Vollmer of Illinois Public Radio, the Illinois Supreme court has to decide “what is a life sentence?” They will make a decision on whether sentencing a 16 year old to a 50 year sentence is constitutional.  As the United States Supreme Court in Miller v. Alabama has declared, a juvenile cannot be given a life sentence without parole.

So the question is, whether the sentencing of Dimitri Buffer- a 16 year old who mistakenly shot and killed a woman he thought was a rival gang member- effectively a life sentence? Per the article, Buffer’s attorney Christopher Gehrke argues that the sentence is unsurvivable, pointing out that a 50 year sentence for a 16 year old provides no chance for rehabilitation and reintegration into society. “The best case scenario for my client in this case, even if he survives his sentence, he’s basically doomed to live the last few years of his life homeless and impoverished.” Gopi Kashyap, the Assistant attorney general, counters that because Buffer would be due to get out by age 66 it’s not a life sentence because 66 is younger than the average life expectancy. There’s no timeline for the court to decide.

It’s a fascinating case in that it is surprising the Supreme Court took this on and I think a lot of it comes down to the question of what the function of our prison system is supposed to be, especially when it comes to young offenders.  I would argue that Gehrke’s point is a strong one and that the rehabilitation of prisoners should be what we strive for so they can both atone and be given a chance for a normal life outside of prison. This can’t be the ideal for every prisoner obviously as some people have committed such heinous crimes they should never see freedom again. Is Buffer’s crime so heinous? It might be. I can’t imagine the grief of the family of the women who was sensensely murdered. But context matters. This is a 16 year old and there is a reason the supreme court decided that we can’t give life sentences without parole to juvenile offenders. The sad fact is, our prison system punishes, it doesn’t rehabilitate. Buffer’s life would probably be over if he was enmeshed in the system for 50 years and therefore I think the Illinois Supreme Court should consider this ruling unconstitutional. I understand however that there is a legitimate counter argument since legally 50 years is not life without parole and secondly, where would one draw the line? The rationale behind the Miller v. Alabama ruling was that automatic life without parole removed a trial court’s discretion to consider aggravating and mitigating circumstances which arguably this Trial Court did. Further the defense argument can be a slippery slope where if the Court rules 50 years is effectively life, what about the next case that argues 45 years is “life.”  Clearly this case may not not fit a typical Miller v. Alabama analysis, and many may agree that Buffer’s life should effectively be over and I understand their reasoning. I just don’t think that’s what we should strive for our prison system to look like. 

*This is the opinion of Jake Morask. As usual, if you have any questions or legal issues please do not hesitate to contact us at laura@lauralaw.net or call us at 847-696-7185.