Illinois Appellate Court Reverses 50-Year Sentence for Defendant Age 16 at Time of His Offense

Recent Cases in Law and Neuroscience, Curated by the Center for Law, Brain & Behavior and the Shen Neurolaw Lab with support from the Dana Foundation

Darron Jackson. (Public Police Records)

On September 3, 2020, an Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the sentence of Darron Jackson, who was 16 years old at the time of his offense in 2003.

Jackson was convicted as an adult of first-degree murder and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. On appeal, his conviction was affirmed, but the appellate court reduced his sentence to 50 years “to make it less than a life sentence and to allow for rehabilitative potential” because the 60-year sentence was “close to” a de facto life sentence.

Jackson filed a pro se motion in 2014 for leave to file a successive postconviction petition, arguing that his 50-year sentence remained a de facto life sentence because it exceeds his life expectancy. The trial court denied the motion, and the appellate court affirmed this decision in 2016. However, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a supervisory order in 2019 directing the appellate court to reconsider its judgement, as the Illinois Supreme Court had recently decided People v. Buffer, 2019 IL 122327, which held that any sentence over 40 years for a juvenile is a de facto life sentence.

The opinion reconsidering Jackson’s motion noted that Jackson’s original petition was filed before the 2012 decision in Miller v. Alabama prohibited mandatory life without the possibility of parole sentences for juveniles, and before its progeny in Illinois extended this protection to discretionary and de facto life sentences. Similarly, the court noted that the decision in Buffer drawing a line at 40 years for a de facto life sentence for juveniles in Illinois had only recently been decided. Thus, Jackson could not have raised these claims earlier and had established cause for his motion.

The opinion also noted that “there is no evidence that the trial court considered this defendant’s particular immaturity and impetuosity or peer pressure from the gang he belonged to.” A defendant’s immaturity and impetuosity are among the mitigating factors of youth outlined in Miller that a court must consider when sentencing a juvenile.

Consistent with the Illinois Supreme Court’s recommendation, the appellate court reversed Jackson’s sentence and remanded to the trial court for resentencing.

Citation: People v. Jackson, 2020 IL App (1st) 143025-B

Keywords: Illinois, Miller v. Alabama, adolescent brain, de facto life sentence

This post is the 91st 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.

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School