People v. Nieto, No. 1-12-1604, 2016 WL 1165717 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 23, 2016) – Juvenile defendant (age 17 at time of crimes) was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. He was sentenced to 35 years (murder), 25 years (personal discharge of a firearm), and 18 years (battery)—all sentences to be served consecutively for an aggregate term of 78 years. On collateral review, an Illinois appellate court reasoned that “the concerns of Miller are not satisfied by pretending that a cumulative sentence labeled as a term of years will in all cases be distinct from a sentence of natural life without parole.” (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The court noted, “we believe a different analytical framework is called for in the context of consecutive sentences imposed for crimes committed by a juvenile.” Here, defendant will not be released from prison until he is 94 years old. The court found that “he effectively received a sentence of natural life without parole.”
Discussing the impact of Montgomery on this case, the court noted: “Prior to Montgomery, courts in this state understood Miller as prohibiting no more than mandatory life-sentences without parole for juveniles . . . The language of Montgomery, however, strongly suggests that Miller does more.” (citations omitted). “The Court stated in Montgomery that Miller did bar life without parole for all but the rarest of juvenile offenders, those whose crimes reflect permanent incorrigibility. We note that the Court did not say Miller banned only the mandatory imposition of life without parole for all but the rarest of juveniles. Even if a court considers a child’s age before sentencing him or her to a lifetime in prison, that sentence still violates the Eighth Amendment for a child whose crime reflects unfortunate yet transient immaturity. Consequently, Montgomery indicates that not even an exercise of discretion will preclude a Miller challenge.” (internal quotations and citations omitted; emphasis in original). Montgomery states that the procedural requirement of Miller—requiring the sentencer to consider youth and its attendant characteristics before imposing LWOP— “merely enables a prisoner to show that he falls within the category of persons whom the law may no longer punish.” (internal quotations omitted). Thus, “[a]fter Montgomery, Miller requires that a juvenile be given an opportunity to demonstrate that he belongs to the large population of juveniles not subject to natural life in prison without parole, even where his life sentence resulted from the trial court’s exercise of discretion . . . . Trial courts must consider a juvenile’s special characteristics even when exercising discretion. Where the record affirmatively shows that the trial court failed to comprehend and apply such factors in imposing a discretionary sentence of natural life without the possibility of parole, a juvenile defendant is entitled to relief.” Here, the trial court exercised discretion when imposing the defendant’s sentence. But “the court’s reasoning did not comport with the juvenile sentencing factors recited in Roper, Graham, Miller, and Montgomery.” LWOP is disproportionate unless the juvenile defendant’s crime reflects irreparable corruption, and “[s]entencing courts must consider a child’s diminished culpability as well as his heightened capacity for change.” Here, “the record shows that the court did not consider the corresponding characteristics of defendant’s youth.” Additionally, examining some of the aggravating factors the trial court through the lenses of Miller may have led to a shorter sentence. Vacated sentence and remanded for resentencing.