Clause”) provides that penalties should have the objective of restoring the offender to
useful citizenship. The court decided that lengthy sentences for young offenders violated
the Rehabilitation Clause, citing research which showed that young offenders had the best
chance of re-entry when they did not spend most of their lives in prison.
Ultimately, the Appellate Court determined that, because Harris would likely die in
prison, his 71-year sentence shocked “the moral sense of the community” and would take
away any chance for Harris to rehabilitate himself into a useful member of society. Because
Harris was 18 when he was tried and arrested, the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision may
effectively extend the protections provided in Miller even further. At oral arguments,
Harris’ appellate defender asked the Illinois Supreme Court to create a rule requiring judges
to consider the youth of offenders who are under the age of 21 when deciding a sentence.
The Illinois Supreme Court, however, did not grant the defender’s request. In an
opinion issued on October 18, 2018, Justice Thomas L. Kilbride wrote for the court, stating
that, for sentencing purposes, the age of 18 makes the present line between adults and
juveniles for sentencing purposes. The appellate court ruling was reversed, and Harris’
sentence of 71 years without the possibility of parole was reinstated. Justice Kilbride
observed that Harris’ Eighth Amendment claim failed because United States Supreme
Court precedent drew a clear line distinguishing adults and juveniles at the age of 18.
The court also declined to decide whether Harris’ sentence violated the
Rehabilitation Clause. Because there was insufficient information in the record regarding
Harris’ personal history, the evolving research which supported the ruling in Miller could
not be applied in Harris’ case. Declining to remand the case for further proceedings, the
court stated that a post-conviction hearing should be held to resolve this issue and introduce
evidence relevant to Harris’ case.
The Illinois Supreme Court will consider juvenile sentencing again in fall of 2018
when they hear arguments in the case of Dimitri Buffer, who was sentenced to 50 years in
prison without the possibility of parole for murder and the use of a firearm – an offense he
committed when he was 16 years old. One question before the court in Buffer’s case will
be whether his sentence constitutes an unconstitutional de facto life sentence. The Illinois
Appellate Court held that, under Miller, Buffer’s sentence was unconstitutional. The
majority opinion took into consideration that the average life expectancy for inmates was,
at best, 64 years. According to the court, this meant Buffer would have little opportunity
left for a meaningful reentry to society upon release, if he survived to see his release at all.
In the majority opinions for both Buffer and Harris, the Illinois Appellate Court
called on the state legislature to provide more guidance to courts in the area of juvenile
sentencing. In Buffer, the majority opinion suggested that reallocating resources toward the
rehabilitation of juvenile offenders could incentivize good behavior and eventually provide
the outcome of higher rates of successful reinstatement to society. It’s important to
recognize the Appellate Court’s and the United States Supreme Court’s focus on reentry.