The appellant in People v. Handy, 2019 IL App (1st) 170213 appealed the trial court’s decision denying him leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, arguing that he met the cause-and-prejudice test. The First District ultimately affirmed the decision of the circuit court.

Dante Handy was convicted of armed robbery, home invasion, residential burglary, aggravated battery of a senior citizen, kidnapping, aggravated criminal sexual assault, and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, for which he was sentenced to  four consecutive 30-year prison terms. Handy was 18 ½ years old when he committed the crimes. As a result of violations of the single subject rule under the sentencing code, the sentence was converted to a 60-year term of imprisonment, with eligibility for mandatory supervised release at 78 ½ years. Id. at ¶ 1-4.

At trial, Handy testified that he did not ever sexually assault the victim, did not know the co-defendants had planned a robbery, did not intend to kidnap anyone, did not have a gun, and someone other than Handy held a gun to the homeowner’s head. Id. at ¶ 13. Handy testified that he fled from the co-defendants and was warned to keep his mouth closed. Handy further testified that after being arrested, the detective who questioned him threatened him, shoved him back against the mirror in the interrogation room, and pulled his braids. Handy’s testimony conflicted with all evidence and previous testimony.

At sentencing, the victims spoke in aggravation and the State argued that the defendants lacked any rehabilitative potential and had slept, laughed or joked during the court proceedings as if the matter was no big deal. Id. at ¶17. Counsel argued that Handy was less culpable than the co-defendants because of his expressed reluctance, limited participation in the sexual assault, and stated intention to kill himself. Id. at ¶ 18.

On direct appeal, Handy argued that his sentence was excessive because the court was unduly influenced by the media attention and failed to consider his rehabilitative potential based on his individual circumstances, which included the absence of an extensive criminal record, beatings from gang members and expressed remorse. Id. at ¶ 20. The sentence was ultimately converted due to a violation of the single subject rule.

In his initial post-conviction petition, Handy argued that appellate counsel failed to argue that his sentence was disproportionate and excessive in light of his young age, lack of criminal history, and rehabilitative potential. Id. at ¶ 21. The appellate court affirmed. Eight years later, Handy moved the circuit court for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, which argued that he was deprived of due process because the truth-in-sentencing law under which his sentence was imposed was an unconstitutional statutory scheme. The motion was denied. Id. at ¶ 22.

Five years following that decision, Handy moved the circuit court to file the successive post-conviction petition at issue in this appeal. Handy’s pro se petition argued that his 60-year prison sentence was unconstitutional as applied to him under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. Id. at ¶ 23. Handy argued the sentence was a de facto life sentence without the possibility of parole and that the trial court failed to consider the special circumstances of his youth.

As to the “cause and prejudice test” to obtain leave to file his petition, he argued that (1) the law concerning the imposition of lengthy sentences on juveniles changed substantially after his 2003 post-conviction petition as a result of the recent decisions of Montgomery v. Louisiana, __ U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 718 (2016), Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), and People v. Davis, 2014 IL 115595, and (2) there was a reasonable probability that he would have received a shorter sentence if the trial court had correctly understood and applied the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution at his sentencing hearing. Id. at ¶ 23. The court denied leave to file a successive petition. This appeal followed.

The denial of Handy’s motion to file for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition was reviewed de novo. The court noted that to meet the cause-and-prejudice requirements “a defendant seeking leave to file a successive petition must submit enough in the way of pleadings and documentation to allow a circuit court to make an independent determination on the legal question of whether adequate facts have been alleged for a prima facie showing of cause and prejudice.” Id. at ¶ 28. Further, the court noted, leave of court to file a successive postconviction petition should be denied when it is clear, from a review of the successive petition and the documentation submitted by the petitioner, that the claims alleged by the petitioner fail as a matter of law or where the successive petition with supporting documentation is insufficient to justify further proceedings. Id. at ¶ 30.

As to cause-and-prejudice, Handy argued that he made the requisite showings because (1) the new constitutional rule of Miller applies retroactively to his sentence, and (2) a de facto life sentence for a youth in any case other than homicide is categorically barred under Graham. Id. at ¶ 31. Handy acknowledged that at the time of the offense, at 18 ½ years old, he was not technically a juvenile, but he nevertheless argued that Eighth Amendment protections afforded to juveniles under Miller should be extended to him. Id. at ¶ 37.

The Illinois Supreme Court drew a line at the age of 18, meaning that Miller protections do not extend to anyone who was 18 years old or older at the time of offense. Thus, the Handy’s Eighth Amendment challenge was meritless. Id. at ¶ 37. The court also refused to extend Miller principles under the proportionate penalties’ clause to appellant, as the special circumstances that had authorized such an extension in House were not present in this matter. Id. at ¶ 30.

Ultimately, while the court “recognize[d] that [appellant] is serving a harsh sentence” it concluded that he had not shown prejudice and that the trial court properly denied him leave to file his successive post-conviction petition. Id. at ¶ 42. The Appellate Court of Illinois First District affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Cook County.