* NBC 5…
A lawyer for a white Chicago police officer convicted of killing black teenager Laquan McDonald says he’s “extremely pleased” with a decision by the Illinois Supreme Court to let stand a prison sentence of less than seven years for his client.
The Tuesday decision denies a bid by the Illinois attorney general’s office and a special prosecutor to have Jason Van Dyke resentenced. Critics said the sentence was far too lenient. With credit for good behavior, Van Dyke could be freed in three years. […]
Before deciding on a sentence, Gaughan first had to determine if the case fell under the “one act, one crime” doctrine, allowing Van Dyke to be sentenced on only the more serious of the two crimes he was charged with. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in a trial last year.
Prosecutors, citing precedent, argued if Van Dyke was sentenced for only one of the two charges, it should be for the aggravated battery charge, which carried a higher sentence.
Defense attorneys countered that second-degree murder was the appropriate charge, despite the possibility of probation. Ultimately, Gaughan chose to sentence Van Dyke for second-degree murder, giving him the 81-month sentence.
No explanation was given for the court’s refusal to hear the case. But the decision fell largely along political lines, with the court’s three Republicans — Rita Garman, Robert Thomas and Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier — joining Anne Burke, a Democrat who is married to Chicago Ald. Edward Burke, a onetime Chicago police officer who is facing federal corruption charges.
Two of the seven justices on the court, both Democrats, objected to the majority decision in full or in part, saying they believed Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan improperly relied on a previous Supreme Court opinion when he sentenced Van Dyke for a second-degree murder conviction, not the more serious counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.
Another Democratic justice, Mary Jane Theis, did not participate in the decision.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul stopped short of criticizing the court, though he went out of his way several times to note the four justices in the majority didn’t offer a word of explanation for why they ruled as they did.
An appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t appear to be an option, including because the core legal issues have to do exclusively with Illinois law. Raoul acknowledged that his office had run out of options.
Asked whether Van Dyke’s comparatively light sentence was an illustration of racial disparities in sentencing, Raoul paused before saying: “Suffice to say that I believe the sentence was inconsistent with the law.”
AG Raoul replied “No comment,” when asked directly if he thought the Supreme Court ruling was politically motivated.
* Raoul’s press release…
We initiated this motion in conjunction with the Special Prosecutor based on the trial judge’s sentencing decision because it was inconsistent with Illinois law and Illinois Supreme Court precedent. We sought the Supreme Court’s review via a motion for leave to file a mandamus petition.
The Supreme Court majority, without explanation, denied that motion. However, two justices wrote separately to dissent from the denial, recognizing that the sentence was inconsistent with Supreme Court precedent and that the Court could and should grant the requested relief by exercising its supervisory authority.
The majority’s denial, without explanation, does not confirm whether Judge Gaughan’s sentence is consistent with Illinois law. Nonetheless, we recognize and respect the Court’s authority, which it can exercise without a specific request.
I would like to recognize the Special Prosecutor’s work throughout this case, as well as his office’s partnership with mine to bring this matter before the Court.
* Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Kimberly Lightford spoke for the caucus yesterday…
We are disappointed by the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision. The sentencing Van Dyke received earlier this year contradicts state law and the high court’s precedent.
It is frustrating that the Supreme Court rejected this motion without explanation and saddening to know that law enforcement officers are not being held accountable for their actions.
The Illinois Legislative Black Caucus respects the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision, but will continue to fight to fix our broken justice system.