Illinois Appellate Court Grants Petition for Postconviction Proceedings in Case of 19-Year-Old Sentenced to 50 Years

Darione Ross. (Public Police Records)

On December 11, 2020, an Illinois appellate court remanded Darione Ross’ case for further postconviction proceedings. Ross had appealed his 50-year prison sentence, alleging it was unconstitutional because it is a de facto life sentence for a crime he committed in 2008 at age 19.

In 2012, Ross was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Ross argued in his postconviction petition that his sentence was a de facto life sentence, which he claimed is unconstitutional because of his age at the time of the offenses. He argued that “the Illinois Supreme Court has recognized that research on juvenile maturity brain development might also apply to young adults,” citing recent case law concerning young adult offenders and the extension of Miller v. Alabama (which prohibited mandatory life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) sentences for those under 18 years old) to those who were older than 18 years old at the time of an offense.

The court stated that the issue of LWOP sentences for young adults is “an evolving area of law,” and noted that “even after the parties submitted their briefs in this appeal, both the Illinois Supreme Court and the Illinois Appellate Court issued several different rulings that are relevant to the instant issue.”

The Illinois Supreme Court previously determined that any life sentence, whether mandatory, discretionary, or de facto, is unconstitutional for juveniles. While it has not yet extended these rulings to young adults, the court’s opinion in this case noted that “the law undoubtedly has continued to trend in the direction of increased protections for young adult offenders.” The opinion noted that Ross’ Eighth Amendment claim “does not have merit, as case law has drawn the line at 18 years old,” but that his claim that his sentence violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution did.

Because of recent decisions in cases such as People v. Harris, 2016 IL App (1st) 141744 and People v. House, 2015 IL App (1st) 110580, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further postconviction proceedings, as Ross’ petition “alleged facts to support his argument that his brain was more akin to a juvenile’s brain when he committed murder.” The opinion continued, “Although the defendant’s claim that his 50-year sentence violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution may ultimately fail, there is no way to make that determination at this stage without further postconviction proceedings.”

Citation: People v. Ross, 2020 IL App (1st) 171202

Key words: Illinois, de facto life sentence, adolescent brain, young adult, LWOP, Miller v. Alabama

This post is the 70th post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.



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