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Challenge to mandatory life sentence for teens reaches Illinois Supreme Court

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

* Sarah Mansur at Capitol News Illinois

A man who was found guilty for acting as the lookout in a double homicide nearly three decades ago is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to find his mandatory life sentence without parole unconstitutional.

A lawyer for Antonio House argued before Supreme Court Tuesday that his life sentence for a crime committed when he was 19 violates the so-called proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution.

This clause in the constitution states: “All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.”

Lauren Bauser, an assistant appellate defender who represents House, said the court should allow House to be resentenced because “the record in this case demonstrates that Antonio’s mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed as a teenager, as a teenage lookout, who wasn’t present at the time of the killing, shocks the conscience.”

He’s also making an innocence claim.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

21 Comments
  1. - ChrisB - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 9:15 am:

    I wrote many a college paper on mandatory minimums. They are awful, and there is no philosophical justification for them.


  2. - Homebody - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 9:31 am:

    Basically all research that I’m aware of says length of sentences doesn’t act as a deterrent. What acts as a deterrent is likelihood of getting caught. Lengthy sentences are just for the benefit of those who want to act like they are about vengeance, not about real benefit.


  3. - H-W - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 9:41 am:

    The U.S. Supreme Court got this one wrong. Their argument is that “the” judge has discretion in sentencing, then mandatory life is acceptable.

    That assumes all judges everywhere are fair and impartial, and that all judges are reasonable. Unfortunately, judges are a diverse lot. Some are even political.

    A mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole (or even with it) is a explicit statement that we do not believe our justice system can rehabilitate people. And to say this with regard to minors (teens) assumes our society (our Nation, our State), does not desire to even attempt rehabilitation for those most capable of rehabilitation - our children.

    It is an indictment against our Nation and our State, demonstrating openly that we are hardly a moral Nation, and clearly not one in which Christianity applies as a form of moral reasoning.

    This hypocrisy between our ideal values and our social practices is another manifestation of Myrdal’s “American Dilemma.”


  4. - cermak_rd - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 9:49 am:

    If he’s innocent, that’s obviously another kettle of fish and if he has a reasonable claim it should be appealed.

    If he isn’t innocent, then a person is dead partially as a result of his actions. That is an act that cannot be undone. It is heinous. But if others who commit the same kind of crime with the same kind of priors are sentenced to a different length of sentence then that should be looked at, too. By and large we ought to use the same measure for the same crime.

    But juveniles not getting life? For resulting in someone’s death? I can’t go that far. I can say they should not be executed. I don’t think anyone should be executed.


  5. - @misterjayem - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:19 am:

    “Antonio’s mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for a crime he committed as a teenager, as a teenage lookout, who wasn’t present at the time of the killing, shocks the conscience.”

    And if it doesn’t, it should.

    – MrJM


  6. - Jocko - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:21 am:

    This gets at the question of whether prison time is intended for rehabilitation or punishment.

    It will also be interesting to see which testament Amy Comey Barrett ascribes to…the old or the new.


  7. - JoanP - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:30 am:

    @H-W -

    = Their argument is that “the” judge has discretion in sentencing, then mandatory life is acceptable. =

    I think you misunderstand the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

    In fact, the Court continues to reject mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The recent decision allows *discretionary* life sentences, and concerned what standard needed to be met.


  8. - Perplexed - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:33 am:

    For the record, from John O’Connor of the Associated Press, citing Assistant Attorney General Gopi Kashyap defending the law Tuesday before the Illinois Supreme Court:

    House accompanied his gang leader, Artez “Ted” Thigpen, and others on Sept. 13, 1993, to kidnap 15- and 18-year-old men selling drugs at a Chicago street corner after a factional split of the Unknown Vice Lords. … House armed himself and helped force the interlopers into Thigpen’s car, Kashyap said.

    “Ted remarked that the victims ‘were about to make the make the news’ and defendant admitted that he knew that the victims might be shot,” Kashyap said. “Nevertheless, he drove two miles to the location where the victims had been taken to a junkyard, and once he got there…, confirmed whether the victims were in the junkyard with the members who were shooting them, parked his car and he acted as a lookout.”

    Moreover, a month later, House approached a witness and intimidated her into recanting her statement to authorities, court documents show.


  9. - DuPage Saint - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:37 am:

    @HW. “Some (judges) are even political. I have never met a job she that was not political. Most are the most political animal around
    Mandatory life is not right. I have always said it is the Department of Corrections not Department of Punishment so the state should do everything possible to Correct


  10. - Anonymous - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:45 am:

    ==interesting to see which testament Amy Comey Barrett ascribes to==

    This case is in the Illinois Supreme Court on a provision of the Illinois Constitution.


  11. - Bigtwich - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 10:46 am:

    10:45 was me.


  12. - Fred - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 11:29 am:

    If you want to have rehabilitation then you need to change the prisons. Have work and educational opportunities while the convicted felons are serving their sentences so that when they get out, they will have life and job skills. I remember an investigative series in the Chicago Suntimes that was outraged that felons who served their time were working in City Hall. I was outraged that the Suntimes had a problem with this. People need the second chance and job opportunities. Once they served their time and if the system thinks that they can be released then they should be able to live their lives as any other person


  13. - Donnie Elgin - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 11:38 am:

    Unless this has been repealed this is the current situation for “Teenagers”

    https://ilga.gov/legislation/publicacts/fulltext.asp?Name=095-1031

    Provides that the Task Force shall submit a report by January 1, 2010, to the General Assembly with recommendations on extending juvenile court jurisdiction to youth age 17 charged with felony offenses.

    This defendant was 19, armed and according to Assistant Attorney General Gopi Kashyap, was an active planner in the kidnapping plan that resulted in 2 murders.
    “He participated from the onset. This was a planned offense, it was a kidnapping and murder plot….Kashyap argued that House’s case cannot be compared to Miller’s because Miller was a juvenile at the time of the murders. Miller was also unarmed at the time, while House was carrying a weapon, Kashyap said”


  14. - anon2 - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 12:18 pm:

    Our state does not accord full adult rights to minors. They can’t buy alcohol, cigarettes or handguns or enter a casino. They also can’t run for the General Assembly. That’s because we know their judgment is immature and they aren’t ready for full adult prerogatives. Consequently, how can these same minors with immature judgment be held fully accountable for crimes as if they were adults?


  15. - Perplexed - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 12:35 pm:

    == Consequently, how can these same minors with immature judgment be held fully accountable for crimes as if they were adults? ==

    Your argument against accountability may get some pushback from families of the murdered 15-yr-old and 18-yr-old: Even after 28 years, those two teenagers are merely beginning to serve their time.


  16. - Waldi - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 1:32 pm:

    “This gets at the question of whether prison time is intended for rehabilitation or punishment”

    I look at prison time as a way protecting society by getting dangerous criminals off of the street. How many times do we hear that violent offenders have long criminal histories or out on electronic monitoring for other violent crimes or gun charges? Society has a right to protect itself.


  17. - Enviro - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 1:45 pm:

    The defendent was 19 when he committed the crimes. His victims were 15-year-old Stanton Burch and 18-year-old Micheal Purham.
    His sentence was not for selling drugs or breaking windows. His sentence was for kidnaping and murder.


  18. - charles in charge - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 2:49 pm:

    ==How many times do we hear that violent offenders have long criminal histories or out on electronic monitoring for other violent crimes or gun charges?==

    How many times have you investigated whether those claims were even factual, and not just more fear-mongering and false narratives from elected officials and law enforcement who refuse to ever take accountability for their own failures?


  19. - MaryLouise - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 4:57 pm:

    If he wasn’t present at the double homicide, then how was he present as the lookout? Hmmmmm. Lookouts participate. Nothing says the lookout has to be in the same room where the murder takes place. The lookout is part of the operation…guilty.


  20. - Mama - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 9:48 pm:

    - Fred - Wednesday, May 12, 21 @ 11:29 am:

    “If you want to have rehabilitation then you need to change the prisons. Have work and educational opportunities while the convicted felons are serving their sentences so that when they get out, they will have life and job skills.” I totally agree. Simply housing people in prison ‘without’ helping them with life skills to change their life is not working. People need the second chance and learn a trade for job opportunities. Once they served their time and if the system thinks that they can be released then they should be able to live their lives as everyone else.
    Most people can be rehabilitated if given a chance.


  21. - anon2 - Thursday, May 13, 21 @ 8:08 am:

    == Your argument against accountability may get some pushback from families of the murdered 15-yr-old and 18-yr-old ==
    That’s understandable. On the other hand, our system does not permit victims and their survivors to determine the sentence for perpetrators.


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