People v. Carrasquillo




Illinois Appellate Court, First District

Citation and Year

2023 IL App 211241 (2023)

Constitutional Provision or State Statute

Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 11 (“All penalties shall be determined both according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship.”)

Nature of Case

In 1976, 18-year-old Ronnie Carrasquillo was sentenced to serve 200 to 600 years in prison after he fired into a gang-related melee and killed a plain-clothes police officer. By 2023 he was 65 and had served nearly 40 years. After 20 years of repeated parole denials, Carrasquillo filed a petition for post-conviction relief, claiming that his sentence was de facto life without parole entered without appropriate consideration of his young age, and thus violated the Illinois state constitution’s proportionate penalties clause.


Requiring youth to serve 35 years in prison before the possibility of release is a de facto life without parole sentence, and sentencing courts must consider the “mitigating features of youth” and the goal of rehabilitation before imposing such lengthy sentences.


First, the court explained that the “distinction between whether the defendant’s claim was addressed pursuant to the Eighth amendment or the proportionate penalties clause is significant because the proportionate penalties clause provides additional limitations on penalties ‘beyond those afforded by the eighth amendment.’ The proportionate penalties clause ‘focuses on the objective of rehabilitation,’ goes “beyond the framers’ understanding of the eighth amendment[,] and is not synonymous with that provision.”

Next, the court considered evidence developed during a hearing on Carrasquillo’s post-conviction petition — which included evidence on his his extensive childhood trauma alongside his extraordinary contributions to his community and family (even from prison), and the prevailing science showing that, with regard to brain development, 18-year-olds have far more in common with younger teenagers than they do with full grown adults. On this record, the court concluded that Carrasquillo was entitled to the same protections afforded by Miller v. Alabama to youth under age 18.