Illinois State Appeals Court Finds 32-Year Sentence Is Not de Facto Life Sentence

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

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior
3 min readSep 15, 2021
Above: Illinois Third District Appellate Courthouse (link).

On January 27, 2021, an Illinois state appellate court affirmed the summary dismissal of Daveed Lazard’s postconviction petition for resentencing, rejecting Lazard’s contention that his 32-year sentence was a de facto life sentence.

In 2013, at age 17, Lazard fired a gun into a car with four passengers. He was convicted of attempted first degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, and aggravated discharge of a firearm. At his initial trial, Lazard claimed that the shooting was self-defense, alleging that at the time he fired the shots, he had mistakenly believed that the passengers of the car were about to complete a drive-by shooting.

Lazard received a total of 32 years’ imprisonment for his offenses: 12 years for attempted murder and an additional 20 years due to a mandatory Illinois firearm sentencing enhancement statute.

After Lazard’s postconviction petition for resentencing was summarily dismissed, Lazard appealed, claiming that applying a mandatory 20-year firearm enhancement sentence to a juvenile offender violated the Proportionate Penalties Clause of the Illinois Constitution. Relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama, Lazard argued that automatically treating him as a mature adult by applying the enhancement sentencing overlooked the influence of his youth and environment on his impulsive crime.

The appellate court allowed Lazard to raise an as-applied constitutional challenge, but disagreed that 32 years was a de facto life sentence. In its opinion, the court stated that when it comes to young adults, Illinois courts should consider the “objective factors” used in Miller to determine whether a penalty is disproportionate based on the specific defendant’s actual maturity: “Whether a penalty is disproportionate as applied to a young adult is based on the particular circumstances of the offense . . . and how youth (not age) impacts those [circumstances].”

Nevertheless, the court ultimately found that Lazard could not point to any authority to justify extending Miller’s reasoning to mandatory sentences of less than 40 years. Even if he could demonstrate the influence of his immaturity on his behavior, he would not be entitled to resentencing following Miller because his 32-year sentence was not long enough to be a de facto life sentence. The court therefore upheld the lower court’s summary dismissal of his motion.

Citation: People v. Lazard, 2021 IL App (1st) 191374-U. (link)

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

This post is the 89th 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.