I found a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision interesting. The court in People v. Manning addressed an interesting issue….whether jurors’ inability to unanimously agree upon whether a mitigating factor exists, for purposes of second-degree murder, results in a finding of first-degree murder, as charged and as necessarily found by the jury in the required statutory progression.

My last jury trial in Chicago was a first-degree murder case that I tried as self-defense, which is what the Manning case was about.

Second degree murder is first-degree murder but with mitigating factors present. In other words, the defendant caused the death of the victim but for a reason that must be considered in deciding culpability. For example, in self-defense cases, juries will find defendants guilty of second-degree murder when they determine that more likely than not the defendant believed self-defense was justified, but the belief was unreasonable.

In my case, my client after being physically attacked by another man went in his house and got his gun. When he went back outside to protect his car the attacker came at him again. My client shot and killed him.

Our jury found him not guilty of first-degree murder but guilty of second-degree. In other words, they unanimously determined there were mitigating factors present that lessened his culpability.

In the Manning case, the jury was not able to come to a unanimous decision regarding his use of self-defense, so Manning was convicted of first-degree murder. Manning appealed, basically arguing that the failure of the jury to reach a unanimous finding on whether second-degree mitigating factors were present should have voided the first-degree murder verdict.

The most important issue here is burden. The State had the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Manning had committed first-degree murder. The State did that. It was then Manning’s burden to prove the presence of mitigating factors. Here Manning was unsuccessful.

The Illinois Supreme Court essentially held that Manning’s conviction of first-degree murder was proper. Again, it was his burden to prove the mitigating factors for purposes of second-degree murder.

What’s the difference? Time in prison. Manning was sentenced to 25 years, of which, I believe, he will serve 100% of that before being eligible for parole. Second-degree murder is a class one felony with a sentencing range of four to 20 years served typically at 50%; meaning a 14 year conviction really means seven years minus time spent in custody prior to trial.