WTTW Channel 11
From the moment Jason Van Dyke was convicted last fall, there seemed to be confusion over his possible prison sentence.
A jury in October found the former Chicago police officer guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Last week, Cook County Judge Vincent Gaughan handed down an 81-month prison sentence, more than four years after Van Dyke fired 16 shots at McDonald in the middle of South Pulaski Road.
But was a different sentence required? The judge sentenced Van Dyke only on second-degree murder rather than the aggravated battery counts, which some believe represented the more serious charges.
Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office says it’s now taking a look at Gaughan’s decision to see if it fits with state sentencing requirements.
“We are reviewing this matter,” attorney general spokeswoman Maura Possley said in a statement Wednesday. “We are going to do a careful review of the record and the law and make a determination based on our review.”
The attorney general and special prosecutors in the case can petition the Illinois Supreme Court to review Gaughan’s sentencing decision and issue a “writ of mandamus” – essentially an order from the high court commanding the judge to act in accordance with state sentencing guidelines.
If the state Supreme Court were to analyze the case and agree that Van Dyke should have been sentenced on aggravated battery charges rather than the second-degree murder conviction, ruling Gaughan misapplied the law, it could issue the writ compelling him to resentence the ex-officer.
A spokesman for special prosecutor Joseph McMahon said this week they too are reviewing the matter.
“We are currently reviewing the trial court’s ruling in conjunction with the relevant case law and statutory authority that bears on the sentence imposed on Jan. 18,” McMahon said in a statement Thursday. “The unique facts of this case require consideration of the complex principles of Illinois law.”
These types of petitions are exceedingly rare and difficult to obtain. But they’re not unheard of. In 2016, the state Supreme Court granted a writ ordering Gaughan to resentence a man convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault, concluding the judge should have imposed an additional 15-year penalty enhancement.