The Illinois State Constitution and Illinois statutes provide for limits on what sort of sentences can be imposed for crimes. Sometimes the rules can be vague, however, and in those instances courts oftentimes interpret the rules to the disadvantage of criminal defendants. Take for example the recent Illinois Supreme Court case People v. Ligon.
Fake Gun Leads to Real Penalties
In Ligon, the defendant approached a woman in Cook County and displayed what the woman believed to be firearm. The defendant then stole the woman's truck. Later, police learned that the weapon was actually a BB gun. The defendant was convicted at trial of aggravated vehicular hijacking with a dangerous weapon other than a firearm. Because this was the defendant's third conviction for a Class X felony, the court found that under Illinois law he was a habitual offender and sentenced him to life in prison. The defendant’s initial appeal was denied, and in 2012 he filed a motion to vacate his conviction, arguing that his sentence violated the proportionate sentencing clause of the Illinois State Constitution.
This clause states that “All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.” Illinois courts have interpreted this to mean that a defendant cannot receive a harsher sentence for one crime that has the same elements of a lesser offense. The defendant in Ligon argued that in its prosecution, the State had only established that the BB gun brandished during the hijacking could have been a bludgeon. This, according to Ligon, actually constituted the lesser offense of armed violence with a Category III weapon, an offense predicated upon the vehicular hijacking. The defendant then argued that, under that theory, the State was required to establish that the weapon used by Ligon was an actual bludgeon in order to convict him of the more serious offense.
The difference here, though technical and hinging on statutory interpretation, was huge. On his initial direct appeal, the Appellate Court agreed with Ligon and vacated his life sentence. The Supreme Court, however, took a different view of the case. Rather than side entirely with the State or the defendant, the Supreme Court took a middle path between finding that the BB gun was a bludgeon or a firearm. The Court declared that the BB gun was a “dangerous weapon” under the common law, meaning that it had the potential to be used as a bludgeon that could cause serious harm, and the distinction between that and an actual bludgeon was unimportant in this case.
Chicago Appeals Attorney
Illinois criminal cases are complicated and at times the law is unsettled. As the above case illustrates, the details can be the difference between a fathomable number of years in prison and a lifetime in the penitentiary. If you are facing serious charges involving weapons, then you need experienced legal representation that understands Illinois criminal law. If you or a loved one has already been found guilty, you need an experienced lawyer to represent you on appeal. For more information, contact Barney & Hourihane today for a consultation.