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People v. Stacey
2000 WL 1358528 (Ill.)
Opinion issued September 21, 2000
Defendant Russell Stacey was convicted by two separate juries in the circuit court of Cook County for aggravated criminal sexual abuse and criminal sexual abuse. The circuit court sentenced Stacey to twenty-five years' imprisonment for each conviction; the sentences to run consecutively for an aggregate of fifty years. Stacey appealed the sentences as being excessive. The appellate court affirmed defendant's convictions and sentences. The Illinois Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Bilandic, reversed the appellate court decision on grounds that the sentences were excessive given the nature of the crime. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court decision, but modified the sentences to two consecutive six year terms. Justice Freeman wrote a dissent in which he disagreed with the original twenty-five year sentences, but on grounds that the sentences exceeded the maximum allowed by statute. Justice McMorrow joined in the dissent.
Defendant Stacey's aggravated criminal sexual abuse charge arose on May 30, 1995. On that day, he approached two girls, Susy S., 15, and Jillian G., 14. Stacey forced his hand between Susy S.'s crossed arm and grabbed her breast for a few seconds. She immediately reported the incident to her mother and police and identified the defendant three days later at the police station. People v. Stacey, No. 87104, 2000 WL 1358528, at *1, (Ill. Sept. 21, 2000).
The criminal sexual abuse charge was based on events of June 2, 1995. Defendant approached Lisa G., 18, as she walked to school by herself. Stacey stepped in front of her, grabbed her breast and squeezed it. He then warned his victim against trying to get a better look at him. Thereafter, he grabbed his crotch in an obscene manner and made an obscene remark to the victim. Lisa G. notified police of the incident and was able to identify defendant as her attacker later that day after he was detained near the school. Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *1.
At trial and during the sentencing hearing, additional testimony was offered as to similar activities by Stacey in the past. The testimony described instances in 1990, 1991 and 1992 during which Stacey grabbed or attempted to grab other women's breasts and buttocks. Defendant also made lewd comments and gestures and exposed himself. Victim impact statements were also presented from Susy S. and Lisa G. Susy S. was fearful of going anywhere alone and never felt at ease. Lisa G. stated she no longer walked alone, did not feel safe and no longer trusted anyone. The presentence investigation report detailed defendant's numerous prior convictions including two for felony burglary. Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *2.
The aggravated criminal sexual abuse conviction is a Class 2 felony. Based on that conviction, the criminal sexual abuse charge was elevated to a Class 2 felony, as well. The two felony burglary convictions raised the sentencing level of the convictions in this case from Class 2 to Class X felonies, entitling defendant to between six and thirty years in prison. The Illinois Supreme Court, therefore, found that the twenty-five year sentence for each offense was within statutory limits. Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *3.
Justice Bilandic noted that trial courts are given broad discretionary powers when determining sentences because they have an opportunity to weigh factors including "defendant's credibility, demeanor, general moral character, mentality, social environment, habits and age." Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *3. A reviewing court is not to substitute its own judgment in place of the trial court only because it would have weighed the factors differently. However, Supreme Court Rule 615(b)(4) gives power to reduce sentences to the reviewing court. 134 Ill.2d R.615(b)(4). Illinois case law has established that this can be done only if the trial court has abused its discretion. Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *3.
In this case, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the sentence was "manifestly disproportionate to the nature of the offenses." Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *4. The court stated that the defendant "momentarily grabbed" the victims' breasts and, at the time, the victims were fully clothed. The court also noted that the defendant made lewd comments and gestures. However, while describing the crimes as "appalling and harmful," Justice Bilandic wrote they were "not severe enough to warrant a 25 year sentence." Id. Since it was found to be so disproportionate, the trial court abused its discretion in handing down the twenty-five year sentences. The Illinois Supreme Court noted that the Illinois Constitution requires that penalties must be determined according to the seriousness of the offenses. Id.
Regarding the consecutive nature of the sentences, the Illinois Supreme Court found there to be no abuse of discretion. The trial court relied on the defendant's prior criminal history to conclude that consecutive sentences were necessary to protect the public from defendant's conduct. Id.
Justice Bilandic wrote that it was unnecessary to remand the case for resentencing and the court exercised its authority to reduce the sentences to consecutive six year terms - the minimum required under a Class X felony conviction. This ruling reversed the appellate court judgment and affirmed, but modified, the circuit court judgment. Id.
Justice Freeman disagreed with the majority that the imposed aggregate sentence of fifty years was within the statutory limits. Justice Freeman cited section 5-8-2(c)(2) of the Unified Code of Corrections which states that the "aggregate of consecutive sentences shall not exceed the sum of the maximum terms authorized under Section 5-8-2 for the two most serious felonies involved." Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *6 (quoting 730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(c)(2) (West 1994)).
Justice Freeman also cited the recent Illinois Supreme Court case of People v. Pullen, in which it was found that "section 5-8-4(c)(2) limits the aggregate of consecutive sentences to be imposed upon a defendant who has been convicted of Class 1 or 2 felonies, but is eligible for sentencing as a Class X offender because of prior convictions." Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *6. Justice Freeman asserted that, "while the defendant is to be sentences as a Class X offender, the classification and character of the [Class 2] felonies committed does not change." Id.
Under Justice Freeman's reasoning, because the maximum sentence authorized under a Class 2 felony is fourteen years, the maximum aggregate sentence authorized in this case was twenty-eight years. The sentence imposed by the trial judge had an aggregate term of fifty years, exceeding by twenty-two years the sentence authorized by statute. Since the sentence imposed by the trial court exceeded the statutory limit, Justice Freeman would have remanded the case to the trial court for resentencing using the guidelines he outlined. Stacey, 2000 WL 1358528, at *7.
Thomas D. Arado is a third-year law student at Northern Illinois University College of Law. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the Northern Illinois University Law Review.