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Illinois Supreme Court Announces § 9-1.2(d) Sets Range of Sentences for Intentional Homicide of Unborn Child but Does Not Convert Offense Into Murder for Life-Sentence Enhancement

by Douglas Ankney

The Supreme Court of Illinois held that 720 ILCS 5/9-1.2(d) (West 2006) (“section 9-1.2(d)”) sets the range of sentences available for intentional homicide of an unborn child but does not convert that offense into murder for sentence enhancement purposes and that 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) (West 2006) (“section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii)”) mandates life sentences only for defendants found guilty of more than one murder, overruling People v. Shoultz, 289 Ill. App. 3d 392 (1997).

Reginald Lane was convicted of first-degree murder and intentional homicide of an unborn child in relation to his shooting and killing his pregnant girlfriend, Jwonda Thurston, whose fetus died with her. The trial court ruled that section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) “mandated a sentence of natural life in prison because Lane had murdered more than one victim.” Lane appealed the sentence, arguing he had been found guilty of only one murder. Lane’s sentence was upheld by the appellate court, and the Illinois Supreme Court granted Lane leave to appeal the appellate court’s judgment.

The Court observed when “we interpret statutes, we strive to give effect to the legislature’s intent.” Gillespie Community Unit School District No. 7 v. Wright & Co., 4 N.E.3d 37 (Ill. 2014). It looks “first to the plain and ordinary meaning of the language used in the statute (Beggs v. Board of Education of Murphysboro Community Unit School District No. 186, 72 N.E.3d 288 (Ill. 2016)) read in light of the subject it addresses and the apparent intent of the legislature in enacting it (Van Dyke v. White, 131 N.E.3d 511 (Ill. 2019)). ‘No part of a statute should be rendered meaningless or superfluous. Courts must construe statutes relating to the same subject matter with reference to one another so as to give effect to the provisions of each, if reasonable.’” Id.

At the time of Lane’s sentencing, section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) provided that “the court shall sentence the defendant to a term of natural life imprisonment when the death penalty is not imposed if the defendant, at the time of the commission of the murder, had attained the age of 17 or more and is found guilty of murdering more than one victim.” Section 9-1.2(d) provided that:

“(d) Penalty. The sentence for intentional homicide of an unborn child shall be the same as for first degree murder, except that:

(1) the death penalty may not be imposed:

(2) if the person committed the offense while armed with a firearm, 15 years shall be added to the term of imprisonment imposed by the court;

(3) if, during the commission of the offense, the person personally discharged a firearm, 20 years shall be added to the term of imprisonment imposed by the court;

(4) if, during the commission of the offense, the person personally discharged a firearm that proximately caused great bodily harm, permanent disability, permanent disfigurement, or death to another person, 25 years or up to a term of natural life shall be added to the term of imprisonment imposed by the court.”

In People v. Shum, 512 N.E.2d 1183 (Ill. 1987), the Illinois Supreme Court interpreted a feticide statute that provided the “sentence for feticide shall be the same as for murder, except that the death penalty may not be imposed” and held that “taking the life of a fetus is not murder.” But in the present case, the State argued that section 9-1.2(d)’s sentencing provisions “for intentional homicide of an unborn child effectively amend[ed] section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) and [made] a life sentence mandatory for all defendants found guilty of one murder and one unintentional homicide of an unborn child.”

That was the holding in Shoultz. The Shoultz Court reasoned that “section 9-1.2(d) mandates a life sentence for a murder and an intentional homicide of an unborn child, because otherwise the sentence imposed would not be ‘the same as for murder.’” The Shoultz Court found that “section 9-1.2(d) effectively amends section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii), making intentional homicide of an unborn child equivalent to murder for purposes of mandatory life sentences.”

However, the Court explained that “[a]mendment by implication is not favored; a statute will not be held to have implicitly amended an earlier statute unless terms of the later act are so inconsistent with those of the prior act that they cannot stand together. If the two enactments are capable of being construed so that both may stand, the court should so construe them.” People v. Ullrich, 553 N.E.2d 356 (Ill. 1990).

In the present case, the Court stated that sections “5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) and 9-1.2(d) both take effect as written” if the Court construes “section 9-1.2(d) as establishing the sentencing range for intentional homicide of an unborn child.” The Court supported its interpretation by citing to other sections of the Criminal Code of 2012 that “similarly only set the range of authorized sentences for the offense defined.” (See opinion for cited sections.)

The Court held that “section 9-1.2(d) sets the range of sentences available for intentional homicide of an unborn child, but it does not convert intentional homicide of an unborn child into murder” and further held that “section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) mandates life sentences only for defendants found guilty of more than one murder.” The Court thereby expressly overruled Shoultz. Thus, the Court ruled that because Lane was convicted of only one murder, section 5-8-1(a)(1)(c)(ii) mandate of life imprisonment does not apply to him.

Accordingly, the Court reversed the appellate court’s judgment, vacated the sentence, and remanded for resentencing. See: People v. Lane, 2023 Ill. LEXIS 870 (2023).  

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