CHICAGO — Attorney General Kwame Raoul announced Monday he would challenge the six-years-and-nine-month sentence imposed on former Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke, alleging that a Cook County judge improperly applied the law after the officer was convicted of murdering teenager Laquan McDonald.
Flanked by special prosecutor Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon, Raoul said he took no position on whether Van Dyke’s sentence — which was widely criticized — was too lenient.
Instead, Raoul said he filed a writ of mandamus asking the Illinois Supreme Court to decide whether Judge Vincent Gaughan properly sentenced Van Dyke to 81 months in prison on the second-degree murder conviction rather than the 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm, one for each shot that hit McDonald.
Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm on Oct. 5. The charges stemmed from the 2014 slaying of 17-year-old McDonald.
Van Dyke should be resentenced, Raoul said, acknowledging the decision to challenge a judge’s ruling on a matter of law was not an “everyday occurrence.”
“But neither is it uncommon,” Raoul said, adding that this action was the only way to challenge the “totally unauthorized sentence.”
The Supreme Court should order a new sentencing hearing for Van Dyke and instruct Gaughan “to follow precedent by imposing sentence on all 16 counts and then determine whether one or more sentences must be consecutive,” Raoul said.
McMahon said Van Dyke’s defense attorneys last week filed notice that they plan to appeal his conviction.
The second-degree murder count is a Class 1 felony, while the battery counts are considered Class X felonies, and could result in a longer prison sentence.
Raoul said his action was not prompted by political considerations.
“That’s nonsense,” Raoul said.
McMahon, who led the prosecution of Van Dyke, said he had spoke with McDonald’s family, who told him that they supported challenging Van Dyke’s sentence.
“While there are many who have opined on the appropriateness of the length of the sentence in this matter, I recognize that a trial judge’s discretion in sentencing is to be given great deference,” Raoul said. “However, it is in the interest of justice that we do all within our power to make sure that such exercise of discretion be applied consistent with the mandates of law no matter who the defendant and no matter who the victim in a particular case.”
However, there is no plan to launch a review of other, similar cases where the law may have been improperly applied, Raoul said.
McMahon said after the sentencing hearing he was “satisfied” with the sentence, but wants to ensure that the sentence is lawful after having had “an opportunity to step back and evaluate both the law and how the sentence was imposed.”