The punishment did not fit the crime for Terrell Geiger. That’s what the Illinois Supreme Court says. In a 6-1 decision announced Thursday, the court ordered resentencing for the Kankakee man, who refused to testify as a witness in another man’s murder trial. For that, he got a 20-year sentence.
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“The longest sentence that an appellate court has dealt with in a published decision was six months for failing to testify, and this was 20 years, a 400 percent difference,” says Fletcher Hamill, a state appellate public defender based in Elgin. “They found in this case that that was grossly disproportionate and excessive.”
Geiger incorrectly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, but those are only in effect to prevent self-incrimination, not to effect self-preservation. Hamill says Geiger and the other principals in the case were gang members, and at least one other witness had received threats. Hamill says contempt of court is a serious crime, but not one which, by itself, merits a 20-year prison term.