Judge: Defendants deserve better transparency in sentencing

Appellate judge calls on state Supreme Court to require trial judges to better explain how they come up with their sentences. "Defendants deserve better," he wrote.

While voting to uphold the 18-year sentence of man on charges he was an armed habitual criminal, Appellate Judge Michael B. Hyman contended in a concurring opinion Tuesday that the “integrity of the justice system” requires judges to do more to explain the basis for their sentencing decisions.

At issue was the sentence Cook County Circuit Judge Thaddeus Wilson imposed on Levie Bryant, who had two prior weapons convictions when police observed him drop a gun as they approached him on a South Side street in February, 2012.

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Judge Michael B. Hyman

The appellate court unanimously upheld Wilson’s sentence. But writing separately, Hyman warned that even though past state Supreme Court rulings make clear that judges are not required to spell out the reasons for the sentences they impose, “our criminal defendants deserve better.” His concurring opinion continues, “It is not enough for judges to make fair, unbiased, and particularized sentencing decisions, criminal defendants (and the public) must perceive judges as making fair, unbiased, and particularized sentencing decisions. That cannot be achieved as long as judges don’t need to justify or legitimatize their actions.”

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Hyman called on the state Supreme Court to create a rule demanding judges provide more insight into their sentencing decisions; and, until then, called on individual judges to go further on their own, even if not required to do so.