Order denying motion for leave to file successive petition was vacated and defendant received new sentencing hearing after receiving de facto life sentence

The appellant in People v. Paige, 2019 IL App (1st) 161563 appealed the trial court’s order denying him leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing that his 50-year prison sentence, imposed for a crime that the defendant committed when he was 16 years old, was unconstitutional. The appellate court reversed the decision of the circuit court and remanded for a new sentencing hearing.

Melvin Paige was charged and convicted of first-degree murder, home invasion, and residential burglary when he was 16 years old. Id. at ¶ 5. Following the commission of these offenses, Paige went to the police station and turned himself in, stating that he “could not sleep because of what he had done” and “wanted to come strong and to stand up for having committed a murder.” Id. at ¶ 11. Paige and his mother were present during a subsequent interview with the ASA, Mary Beth Kinnerk. During the interview with the ASA, appellant stated “substantially the same information as his statement to Sergeant Vargas,” whom he initially confessed to. Id. at ¶ 12. Evidence was presented that Paige was enrolled in a special education program for students with learning disabilities, that his IQ of 78 fell within the borderline range of intellectual potential, and that he suffered from a substance-induced mood disorder with depressive and psychotic features, in addition to a conduct disorder. Id. at ¶ 13.

At sentencing, the State presented victim impact statements from the victim’s son and daughter-in-law, as well as a presentence investigative report (PSI) establishing that Paige had been arrested for a curfew violation when he was 14 years old and completed a year of probation. Id. at ¶ 14. In mitigation, a forensic psychiatrist testified to Paige’s cognitive challenges and his predisposition towards impulsive, poor decision-making. Id. at ¶ 15-16. The psychiatrist also testified as to Paige’s rehabilitative potential and likelihood of success through counseling. Id. at ¶ 16. Paige’s grandmother testified to the effects of the sudden death of Paige’s stepfather, when he was 13 years old, and how that “changed” him. Id. at ¶ 17.

In imposing sentence, the court took into consideration the Paige’s personal circumstances, noting “this has not been an easy case,” and acknowledged the challenges of both Paige and his families’ life. The court considered Paige’s age at the time of the offense and at trial and stated that “defendant’s actions personified really the sum of all fears for homeowners. That is to die at the hands of a home invader.” Id. at ¶ 22. Ultimately, the trial court sentenced Paige to 50 years’ imprisonment for the first-degree murder charge, 25 years for home invasion to be served concurrently, and 15 years for residential burglary, to be served concurrently with the murder sentence but consecutive to the home invasion sentence. Id. at ¶ 23.

The appellate court affirmed the convictions for first degree murder and home invasion but vacated his conviction for residential burglary. Id. at ¶ 24. Shortly thereafter, appellant filed a pro se postconviction petition alleging that the (1) the trial court improperly considered multiple victim impact statements and (2) trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to object and raise this issue. The petition was summarily dismissed by the court. Id. at ¶ 25. Paige filed a subsequent pro se motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, alleging that his 50-year sentence was a de facto life sentence that violated Miller. Id. at ¶ 26. The motion argued for a new sentencing hearing, which the circuit court denied, stating that Paige’s sentence was not a de facto life sentence. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Paige contended that the circuit court erred in denying him leave to file a successive post-conviction petition where he established cause-and-prejudice. After Paige filed his initial post-conviction petition, the United States Supreme Court issued Miller, in which it held that the eighth amendment forbids a mandatory sentence of life in prison for juvenile offenders whose crimes reflect “unfortunate yet transient immaturity.” Id. at ¶ 30. Paige argued that he had shown cause-and-prejudice where cases decided after his initial petition found such sentences unconstitutional.

The appellate court agreed that Paige had established “cause” based on the timeline of his filing. To establish prejudice, the court held that appellant must have demonstrated a violation of Miller’s substantive rule in the imposition of his sentence. Id. at ¶ 31. The court acknowledged that while Paige’s sentence was not mandatory, the Illinois supreme court held that Miller also applies to discretionary sentences, and recently, in People v. Buffer, 2019 IL 122327, determined that sentences in excess of 40 years constitute de facto life sentences. Id. at ¶ 31. Therefore, the court held that Paige’s sentence of 50 years’ imprisonment for an offense committed as a 16-year-old was a de facto life sentence subject to Miller’s substantive rule.

In order to prevail on his Miller claim, the court stated that Paige was required to demonstrate that the sentencing court’s failed to consider his youth and its attendant characteristics before imposing his sentence. Id. at ¶ 32. The court noted that the record reflected evidence was presented on the potential for Paige’s rehabilitation, which included testimony on the rehabilitative potential, via counseling and drug treatment, for both Paige’s drug abuse problem and personality disorder. Id. at ¶ 39. The appellate court also noted that the trial court failed to “fully consider [Paige’s] potential for rehabilitation” in sentencing. As such, the court held that the “imposition of a life sentence on a juvenile defendant was unconstitutional.” Id. at ¶ 40. The sentence was vacated by the court and remanded to determine whether his crime reflected “permanent incorrigibility” or the “unfortunate yet transient immaturity” of youth.

The Appellate Court of Illinois First District reversed the judgement of the Circuit Court of Cook County and remanded for a new sentencing hearing.

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