CD Theft Gets Teenager 5 Years in Prison New Get-Tough Juvenile Law Mandates Boy's Punishment

Article excerpt

In a case that's raised constitutional and moral questions about a year-old, get-tough juvenile law, a McHenry County teenager is headed to prison for five years for stealing two CDs from a Crystal Lake electronics store.

Judge Thomas F. Baker had no choice Thursday but to impose the sentence, which was put in place in August after Jeff Hoey, then 16, robbed a Chemung convenience store with a BB gun. The robbery netted $625.

Under the terms of his Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction sentence, which allows a blend of juvenile and adult terms, Hoey was placed on probation.

The five-year prison term was held over his head as the penalty for non-compliance. On Thursday, it came crashing down on him.

With Baker's determination, because Hoey stole the two compact discs, the prison term was automatic.

Dressed in a green short-sleeve shirt, jeans and gym shoes, the 17-year-old hung his head as the judge made his decision at the probable cause hearing in the McHenry County Courthouse.

His mother briefly ran her hand across her son's hair and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. With day-for-day "good time" behavior, Hoey will be out in two and a half years.

Defense attorney Tom Carroll said he will appeal Baker's previous ruling that the Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction provision is constitutional. Baker noted it was not up to him to decide if the law is wise or unwise, only to apply it.

"The judge followed what the law is," Carroll said. "I don't agree at all with the law. I don't think Judge Baker took any pleasure in what he did.

"I don't think two and a half years in jail is going to make Jeff Hoey a better person," he said. "He's going to be in jail with people who are much more hardened than this young boy."

American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois spokesman Ed Yohnka called the prison term "as good as a death sentence."

"To lock a kid up for stealing - what, 30 bucks of stuff? - is just absurd," Yohnka said.

McHenry County State's Attorney Gary Pack called the sentence appropriate. "He has nobody to blame but himself."

Pack said it's always unfortunate when young people who commit serious crimes have to go to jail. But with the blended sentence, Hoey was given a second chance, he said.

"He was given a break. He was given a big break on aggravated robbery, and then he goes out and commits another crime," Pack said. "He could have walked away without anything."

The penalty Hoey received for violating his juvenile probation is more serious than the punishment the Harvard teen could have received if he had been prosecuted as an adult in the first place.

The discrepancy is not the only one Carroll has found with the juvenile jurisdiction law. He previously argued the law is unconstitutional, violating the separation of powers between the state's legislative and judicial branches, as well as Hoey's right to equal protection.

The blended sentence provision was written into the 1999 Juvenile Justice Act to more aggressively deal with youthful offenders.

Among Carroll's arguments was that the law offered judges no discretion to mitigate the adult portion of the sentence. Baker's decision is believed to be the first constitutional test of the law.

On Thursday, Carroll raised another legal question: Where does he go if he wants to seek a reconsideration of Baker's latest decision, the first step toward a possible appeal? …