Appellate court holds that State improperly participated in post-conviction hearing but decided not to remand

The appellant in People v. Ames, 2019 IL App (4th) 170569 appealed the trial court’s order denying’s his second motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petitio on the grounds that the circuit court erred by allowing the State to respond to the motion. Ultimately, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Sangamon County.

Ames was convicted of one count of home invasion and two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault and sentenced to consecutive terms of 28 years of imprisonment for home invasion and 6 years each for aggravated criminal sexual assault. Id. at ¶ 3. On direct appeal, Ames alleged that: (1) evidence of another crime deprived him of a fair trial and (2) trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object to prior inconsistent statements made by the victim. The Fourth District affirmed on direct appeal. Immediately following that decision, Ames unsuccessfully petitioned the supreme court for leave to appeal. Id. at ¶ 4.

In September 2005, Ames filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, raising numerous ineffective assistance of counsel claims related to both trial and appellate counsel’s performance, including trial counsel’s alleged failure to move for expert analysis of DNA and trial counsel’s refusal to allow Ames to testify at trial. Id. at ¶ 5. After advancing to the second stage of post-conviction proceedings, the circuit court granted the State’s motion to dismiss. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the dismissal. Again, Ames unsuccessfully petitioned the supreme court for leave to appeal. Id. at ¶ 5.

In September 2012, Ames filed his first motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition, which was subsequently denied by the circuit court. The circuit court permitted Ames to file an amended motion, which he did in January 2013, asserting, inter alia, that his aggravated criminal sexual assault sentences violated the proportionate penalty clause. Id. at ¶ 6. In May of 2013, following a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion; this denial was affirmed by the appellate court on appeal. Id. at ¶ 6.

In April 2016, Ames filed a second motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition. In the months following, the State filed a response asserting that the motion should be denied, which prompted Ames to file a supplement to the original motion. One week following the filing of the supplement to Ames’ motion, a hearing was held where the State was permitted to make arguments.

In December of 2016, Ames’ motion was denied by the court on the grounds Ames failed to establish cause for failing to raise the issues contained in the second motion in his initial post-conviction petition and failing to file an affidavit in support of his claims. Id. at ¶ 7. In July of 2017, a hearing to reconsider the motion was held, resulting in the motion being denied once again. This appeal followed.

The Post-Conviction Hearing Act provides that in order to obtain leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, a petitioner must demonstrate cause for his or her failure to bring the claim in his or her initial post-conviction proceedings and prejudice stemming from that failure. Id. at ¶ 12-13. As such, the court considered whether or not appellant Ames made a prima facie showing of cause and prejudice in determining whether or not Ames should be granted leave to file the successive postconviction petition. Id. at ¶ 13.

The appellate court disagreed with assertions made by the State that their involvement in the “preliminary screening” process of cause and prejudice in the successive petition hearing was minimal and proper, holding, consistent with previous rulings by the Illinois Supreme Court in People v. Bailey, 2017 IL 121450, that the State should not have been allowed to participate in any fashion. Id. at ¶ 14. The court’s focus thus became what relief should be afforded to Ames. Namely, whether or not the appellate court had the authority to affirm or deny on any basis found in the record or was required to remand for new proceedings.

After an extensive review of Bailey and subsequent appellate court cases, the appellate court agreed with a ruling in People v. Conway, 2019 IL App (2d) 170196, which held that the appellate court may choose for the sake of judicial economy to review a circuit court’s denial of a motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition when the State has been involved. Id. at ¶ 23.

The appellate court held that its review was “more appropriate than remanding the cause to the circuit court.” Id. at ¶ 23. To that end, the appellate court determined that Ames had failed to make a prima facie showing of the cause element for raising conflicts in testimony and evidence that were in the record at the time of his initial post-conviction petition, citing inapplicable Supreme Court cases as reason for delay in bringing his claim, and raising issues regarding DNA testing that had previously been raised. Id. at ¶ 24.

As a result, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Sangamon County. Id. at ¶ 26.

 

Appellate Court holds that imprisonment doesn’t excuse a petitioner’s failure to attach supporting material to his post-conviction petition

The appellant in People v. Harris, 2019 IL App (4th) 170261 appealed the decision of the trial court summarily dismissing his pro se petition for post-conviction relief on the grounds that his petition presented an arguable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to request a continuance to secure witness testimony for his claim of self-defense. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal.

Harris was found guilty on five counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted first-degree murder, one count of aggravated battery of a child, one count of home invasion, and one count of armed robbery at his May 2013 trial. Id. at ¶ 4. Harris was sentenced to five terms of natural life imprisonment for the first-degree murder charges, 30 years’ imprisonment for the attempted murder charge, 30 years’ imprisonment for the home invasion charge, and 20 years’ imprisonment for the armed robbery charge, all of which were imposed consecutively. Id. at ¶ 4. Both Harris’ convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal.

In December 2016, Harris filed a pro se post-conviction petition alleging ineffective assistance of his trial counsel for failing to request a continuance on the last day of his trial to secure testimony from two witnesses who would have supported his trial defense of self-defense. Id. at ¶ 5. Harris alleged that the witness testimony from the two surviving members of the incident for which Harris was charged would confirm that another member of the family had threatened to kill the entire family and had only been unable to appear at trial because of a missed flight from Florida to Illinois. Id. at ¶ 5.

In support of this argument, Harris attached to his petition (1) a signed and notarized personal evidentiary affidavit, (2) an unsigned “affidavit” drafted by Harris for a witness named “Nicole,” and (3) an unsigned “affidavit” drafted by Harris for a witness named “A.H.” Harris averred that he had questioned his counsel regarding his decision to rest on the last day of trial without their testimony, to which counsel informed him that he had made the decision because both witnesses had missed their flights.

The trial court summarily dismissed the petition in March of 2017, ruling that appellant had failed to attach the necessary supporting material or sufficiently explain why failure to request a continuance amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court also found that even if it had considered the summary of the alleged testimony from both witnesses, counsel’s failure to seek a continuance was not arguably deficient, as the testimony would have been inadmissible as hearsay and irrelevant. Id. at ¶ 6. This appeal followed.

On appeal, the Appellate Court reviewed the first-stage dismissal of appellant’s postconviction petition de novo. The court held that despite the “low threshold” for petitions to survive the first stage of postconviction proceedings, Harris was not excused from “providing factual support for his claims… [and] must supply sufficient factual basis to show the allegations in the petition are capable of objective or independent corroboration.” Id. at ¶ 11.

The court indicated that the attached affidavits, records or other evidence included with a postconviction petition exist to establish such support and must (1) show the petitions are capable of corroboration and (2) identify the sources, character, and availability of evidence alleged to support the petition’s allegations. Id. at ¶ 12. The court looked to the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling that failure to attach the necessary supporting material or explain its absence is “fatal” to a post-conviction petition and alone “justifies the petition’s summary dismissal.” Id. at ¶ 13.

The court disagreed with Harris’ assertion that the personal evidentiary affidavit attached to his postconviction petition adequately supported the assertions made about witness testimony. The court ruled that the affidavit did not demonstrate that the allegation was capable of objective or independent corroboration, nor did it identify the availability of evidence alleged to support the allegation. Id. at ¶ 14.

Harris, in response, relied upon a ruling in People v. Washington, 38 Ill. 2d 446, 449 (1967) to argue that his imprisonment excused his failure to attach such evidence. However, the court found that the court’s decision in Washington was not made on the grounds of the defendant’s failure to present such evidence (as the court found the State had forfeited their argument by failing to raise it before the trial court), and, problematically for Harris, had arrived at a conclusion that did not support the proposition that imprisonment, by itself, could excuse a defendant’s failure to attach supporting material to a post-conviction petition. Id. at ¶ 17.

As such, the court held that imprisonment cannot excuse an appellant’s failure to attach supporting material to a post-conviction petition, as holding otherwise would make the requirement to include such materials “meaningless.” Id. at ¶ 19. Further, the appellate court determined that Harris did not describe any efforts made to obtain signatures for the affidavits he submitted (unsigned), nor did he describe any circumstances, other than imprisonment, that may have prevented him from obtaining those signatures. Id. at ¶ 20.

Because appellant Harris failed to attach the necessary supporting material or provide a reasonable explanation for its absence, the Appellate Court of Illinois Fourth District found the summary dismissal of appellant’s postconviction petition by the Circuit Court of Logan County to be proper and affirmed the court’s judgement. Id. at ¶ 20-23.

Denial of leave to file successive petition reversed where day-for-day eligible 80-year sentence constituted de facto life sentence

The appellant in People v. Peacock, 2019 IL App (1st) 170308 appealed the trial court’s decision denying leave to file his successive post-conviction petition, on the grounds that his sentence constituted a de facto life sentence and violated the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution. The Appellate Court of Illinois First Judicial District ultimately reversed and remanded the decision of the Circuit Court of Cook County for further proceedings.

Appellant Taki Peacock is currently service concurrent respective sentences of 80 years, 30 years, 30 years, and 30 years of imprisonment for convictions related to the 1995 first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and armed robbery of his victim, Rufus Taylor. At the time of offense, Peacock was 17 years old. Id. at ¶ 1.

On September 12, 2016, appellant filed a successive postconviction petition, in which he challenged the constitutionality of his 80-year sentence, arguing that it was an unconstitutional de facto life sentence pursuant to Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Appellant was denied leave by the circuit court to file his petition on October 12, 2016, ruling that the petition was untimely, and appellant had failed to file a motion for leave to file the petition. Id. at ¶ 2. This appeal followed.

On appeal, Peacock argued that he should have been permitted to file his petition because the 80-year sentence imposed on his conviction as a juvenile constitutes a de facto life sentence and thus violates the eighth amendment of the US Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution.  On appeal, Peacock acknowledged that he may qualify for day-to-day credit, and, accordingly, will be required to serve at least 40 years (50%) of his sentence. Peacock argued that his de facto life sentence still triggers the protections of Miller and requires a sentencing court to consider his youth and attendant characteristics in sentencing. Id. at ¶ 3. Peacock argued that the circuit court erred by not doing so and, as a result, thecase should be remanded for a new sentencing hearing.

In response, the State argued that leave was properly denied, and appellant’s sentence does not constitute a de facto life sentence because he was only “likely [to] serve 40 years.” The State points to appellant’s IDOC projected discharge date of August 31, 2035, exactly 40 years from the date he went into custody, as evidence of this fact. Id. at ¶ 4.

This appeal had previously been stayed pending an Illinois Supreme Court decision in People v. Buffer, 2019 IL 122327. Id. at ¶ 5. The Supreme Court has since decided Buffer, allowing for the stay on this case to be lifted.

In Buffer, the Supreme Court held that “a prison sentence of 40 years or less imposed on a juvenile offender does not constitute a de facto life sentence in violation of the eighth amendment.” However, any sentence in excess of 40 years does. Id. at ¶ 11. This determination was made in accordance with previous holdings from Miller, which stated that in order to prevail in similar claims, “a defendant sentenced for an offense committed while a juvenile must show that (1) the defendant was subject to a life sentence, mandatory or discretionary, natural or de facto, and (2) the sentencing court failed to consider youth and its attendant characteristics in imposing the sentence.” Id. at ¶ 7. Following the decision in Buffer, both parties in this appeal were permitted to file supplemental briefs to address the impact of the ruling.

In his brief, Peacock argued that the ruling in Buffer supports his previously stated arguments regarding his sentence. Peacock acknowledged that while there is some confusion regarding explicit 40 year sentences (namely whether or not a sentence of exactly 40 years can be considered a de facto life sentence or not), his sentence should be considered in excess of 40 years because it is not guaranteed that he will serve only 40 years of his sentence, as his sentence is “entirely dependent upon the condition that he will not forfeit even one day one day of good conduct credit.” Id. at ¶ 14.

In its brief, the State contended that appellant’s sentence, having recently had his projected release date shortened by 15 days to August 16, 2035, is now only “39 years, 11 months and 16 days in prison,” which under Buffer cannot be constitute a de facto life sentence. Id. at ¶ 15.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Buffer, however, the Appellate Court held that Peacock’s 80-year sentence in this case did constitute a de facto life sentence. Id. at ¶ 17. The Court expanded that they need not make a determination regarding de facto life sentences on the dividing line of 40 years (the State’s argument) because the sentence imposed was an 80-year sentence with the “mere possibility of release after 40 years,” not a 40-year sentence. Id. at ¶ 19. The Court also agreed with Peacock’s argument that he’s not guaranteed receipt of day-for-day credit.

The Appellate Court also concluded that the trial court erred in failing to consider Peacock’s youth and his attendant characteristics in imposing his sentence, despite the State’s assertions to the contrary. Id. at ¶ 21. The court stated, in accordance with the Supreme Court, that the attendant characteristics that must be considered at sentencing in order to justify a de facto life sentence are “the juvenile defendant’s chronological age at the time of the offense and any evidence of his particular immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences; (2) the juvenile defendant’s family and home environment; (3) the juvenile defendant’s degree of participation in the homicide and any evidence of familial or peer pressures that may have affected him; (4) the juvenile defendant’s incompetence, including his inability to deal with police officers or prosecutors and his incapacity to assist his own attorneys; and (5) the juvenile defendant’s prospects for rehabilitation.” Id. at ¶ 22. The Appellate Court held that the trial court’s mere awareness of Peacock’s age and consideration of the PSI was not “the equivalent to a full consideration of those special characteristics” and cannot be considered evidence of such. Id. at ¶ 23-24.

Ultimately, the appellate court held that Peacock’s sentence violated the eighth amendment, vacated the sentence as unconstitutional, reversed the decision of the Circuit Court of Cook County, and remanded for a new sentencing hearing. Id. at ¶ 24-26.

Appellate court reverses dismissal of 2-1401 petition where defendant’s armed habitual criminal conviction was based on a void predicate offense

The appellant in People v. Barefield, 2019 IL App (3d) 160516 appealed the dismissal of his petition for relief from judgement (filed under section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure), on the grounds that his conviction for armed habitual criminal should be vacated because the predicate offense, his conviction for aggravated unlawful use of a weapon (AUUW), was void ab initio and should also be vacated. The Appellate Court of Illinois Third District ultimately reversed the dismissal of the petition by the trial court.

Barefield was charged with armed habitual criminal after having twice been convicted of AUUW, Aggravated Robbery, and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon (based on his AUUW convictions). Id. at ¶ 3. Barefield entered a negotiated plea agreement in which he pled guilty to armed habitual criminal in exchange for a sentence of eight years and six months imprisonment and the dismissal of the weapons charge. Id. at ¶ 4. Following the entry of his plea, Barfield filed a pro se petition for relief from judgement under section 2-1401 of the Code, arguing that his conviction (for which he entered a guilty plea) was predicated on AUUW convictions related to a AUUW statute that had been held to be facially unconstitutional. Id. at ¶ 5. As a result, Barefield requested the court vacate his conviction based on the fact that the predicate offenses were void ab initio.

The State filed a motion to dismiss under sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code, which argued that Barefield had failed to state a cause of action under section 2-1401, the petition was untimely, and could be rejected based on the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. McFadden, 2016 IL 117424. Id. at ¶ 6. Barefield filed a motion for leave to amend his petition to include a request that the underlying AUUW convictions be vacated as well, as they were also void ab initio. The trial court granted the State’s motion to dismiss and denied Barefield’s motion for leave to amend the petition. Id. at ¶ 8. Barefield appealed.

In its analysis of the vacatur of the armed habitual criminal conviction, the appellate court held that a conviction for armed habitual criminal must be vacated if the predicate AUUW conviction was entered under an unconstitutional section of the AUUW statute. Id. at ¶ 11. The Criminal Code confirms that a defendant must have been convicted of at least 2 firearm offenses to have committed an armed habitual criminal offense, and, according to People v. Davis,“a defendant’s qualifying prior convictions are an element of the offense of being an armed habitual criminal.” Id. at ¶ 12.

The appellate court confirmed Barefield’s assertion that the Illinois Supreme Court had determined parts of the AUUW statute facially unconstitutional because they violate the second amendment of the United States constitution. Id. at ¶ 13. The court also indicated that the Illinois Supreme Court had overruled the decision in McFadden, cited by the State in response to appellant’s motion, and ruled that “when a statute is found to be facially unconstitutional in Illinois, it is said to be void ab initio; that is, it is as if the law had never been passed.” Id. at ¶ 15. As a result, the court concluded that if Barefield’s AUUW conviction was pursuant to section 24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A) of the Criminal Code, then his conviction for armed habitual criminal must be vacated. Id. at ¶ 17.

The Court acknowledged that while Roberson was definitively charged under section 24-1.6(a)(1), (a)(3)(A) of the Criminal Code, the record was unclear as to whether he was convicted under the same section. As such, the appellate court ruled that the section of the statute under which Barefield was convicted needed to be established definitively. The court remanded the matter to the circuit court for such a determination. Id. at ¶ 18.

On the vacatur of the AUUW Convictions, the court noted that the State conceded that Roberson’s prior AUUW convictions were void ab initio and disagreed with their assertion that Roberson needed to file post-conviction petitions separately in those cases. Id. at¶ 22. The Court cited In re N.G.,2018 IL 121939, stating under Illinois law, there is no fixed procedural mechanism or forum, nor is there any temporal limitation governing when a void ab initio challenge may be asserted.” Id. at ¶ 23.

The court ruled that Roberson should be permitted to amend his section 2-1401 petition to seek vacatur of his AUUW convictions in addition to his armed habitual criminal conviction. Id. at ¶ 24. The court remanded the matter to the circuit court for a determination as to whether Roberson was convicted under one of the facially unconstitutional sections of the AUUW statue. Id. at ¶ 25.

The Barefield court ultimately reversed and remanded the decision of the trial court dismissing the section 2-1401 petition and denying Barefield leave to amend the petition, with directions for the circuit court to vacate all convictions, should they be determined to have been entered under one of the facially unconstitutional sections of the AUUW statute. Id. at ¶ 29.

 

 

Petitioner could not show ineffective assistance of counsel for counsel’s failure to share discovery with him

The appellant in People v. Walker, 2019 IL App (3d) 170374 appealed the decision of the trial court’s order his pro se post-conviction petition on the grounds that the dismissal was erroneous. The Third District ultimately affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court.

Eric D. Walker was charged with and pled guilty to aggravated battery and burglary and was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 2016.

In 2017, Walker filed a pro se post-conviction petition, raising “numerous claims, many of which related to the representation [he] had received.” Id. at ¶ 6. Walker alleged that his attorney, the assistant public defender, conspired against him with the State and intentionally misled and misrepresented him; failed to file motions requested by Walker; failed to seek additionally discovery; refused to speak to his witnesses; and, of most relevance to the appeal, refused to allow him to review the discovery and evidence against him. The petition concluded that had Walker been provided the information the assistant public defender failed to allow him to review, he would not have pled guilty. Id. at ¶ 7. Walker filed substantively similar post-conviction petitions in both the aggravated battery and burglary cases, each of which related to both convictions. The trial court summarily dismissed both petitions as frivolous and patently without merit at the first stage of post-conviction proceedings. Id. at ¶ 1, 10. Walker then appealed.

On appeal, Walker argued that his petition presented an arguable constitutional claim of ineffective assistance of counsel due to counsel’s failure to show and discuss discovery materials with him. Accordingly, Walker argued that the trial court erred in dismissing his petition. Id. at ¶ 12. The Appellate Court’s review of the trial court’s summary dismissal was conducted de novo.

The Appellate Court explained that a “trial court must summarily dismiss a postconviction petition at the first stage of proceedings if the petition is frivolous or patently without merit.” Id. at ¶ 14. Further, the Appellate Court explained that to ultimately prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, one must show that counsel’s performance was objectively unreasonable and that there is a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at ¶ 15. Yet, at the first stage of post-conviction proceedings, “a petition alleging ineffective assistance may not be summarily dismissed if (i) it is arguable that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and (ii) it is arguable that the defendant was prejudiced.” Id. at ¶ 15.

The State argued that a defendant has no independent right to review discovery materials and that counsel’s refusal to allow a defendant to review those materials may not provide the basis for an ineffectiveness claim. In support of their argument, the State cited People v. Savage, 361 Ill. App. 3d 750 (2005), and People v. Davison, 292 Ill. App. 3d 981 (1997). Id. at ¶ 16. Walker argued, in response, that counsel has a duty to disclose or discuss “at least certain discovery materials,” especially those most relevant to a decision to plead guilty, implicitly conceding to the State’s argument that counsel does not have a duty to show a defendant all discovery materials to his client. Id. at ¶ 17.

The Appellate Court sided with the State and found that Walker’s argument regarding the disclosure of the police report undermined his own claims, as it contained no information not already in the record and provided no basis for arguing that counsel’s decision not to disclose the report was unsound or unreasonable. Id. at ¶ 20. Additionally, the Appellate Court held that no factual allegations within the petition, nor documents attached to the petition, created a basis for arguing that counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. The appellate court affirmed.

Court’s order denying motion for leave to file successive petition reversed where trial court failed to consider youthful characteristics of defendant at sentencing

The appellant in People v. Parker, 2019 IL App (5th) 150192 appealed the decision of the Circuit Court of Washington County denying his motion for leave to file successive post-conviction petition.

Leonard Parker was charged with four counts of first degree murder based on a theory of accountability related to the stabbing of a victim by a co-defendant, during the course of a robbery and residential burglary in September of 2000. Parker was 16 years old at the time of arrest. Id. at ¶ 2. Shortly thereafter, Parker entered into a negotiated plea agreement in which he pled guilty to one count of first-degree murder in exchange for the dismissal of the other three charges and a sentence not to exceed 50 years imprisonment. Parker was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment and ordered to pay a fine of $10,000 at his December 2000 sentencing hearing. Id. at ¶ 4.

In January of 2001, Parker filed a motion for leave to withdraw his guilty plea, arguing that he entered his guilty plea without sufficient understanding and contemplation of the serious nature of the consequences, was under pressure from his parents, and had insufficient discussions with his counsel. This motion was accompanied by a motion to reconsider the sentence, arguing that his sentence was excessive. Parker later withdrew the motion after being admonished that moving forward would result in a criminal trial for all four counts of first-degree murder. Id. at ¶ 5. The court denied the motion to reconsidering his sentence, noting that the withdrawal of his motion to withdraw his guilty plea forbid him from challenging his sentence. Id. at ¶ 6.

In 2010, Parker filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel based on: newly discovered evidence that police had ignored his parents’ request not to question him until they were present; that his counsel did not inquire as to whether he was questioned outside his parents’ presence; that he was coerced into entering a guilty plea by his counsel and parents (where his plea was based on a misinterpretation of the sentencing range); and that he was coerced by counsel to withdraw his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Id. at ¶ 7. The petition advanced to second stage proceedings, where the State successfully moved to dismiss the petition based on the fact that it was filed beyond the time allowed under the Act. The dismissal was affirmed upon appeal. Id. at ¶ 8.

In 2015, Parker filed a pro se motion for leave to file a successive petition for post-conviction relief, which argued that his sentence amounted to a de facto life sentence in violation of the eighth amendment of the United States Constitution, citing Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012). Id. at ¶ 9. The trial court denied the motion, challenging Parker’s assertion that 35 years amounted to a de facto life sentence and argued that Miller only applied to mandatory life sentences. This appeal followed.

In its analysis of Miller, the Appellate Court noted that in the period between filing Parker’s appeal and their review of the case, the Illinois Supreme Court had extended the holding of Miller in People v. Holman, 2017 IL 120655, which established “that life sentences for juvenile defendants, whether mandatory or discretionary, were disproportionate and violated the eighth amendment unless the trial court considered the offender’s youth and its attendant circumstances.” Id. at ¶ 13.

The Court also noted that in the subsequent cases of Reyes and Buffer, the Illinois Supreme Court held that “sentencing a juvenile offender to a mandatory term of years that was the functional equivalent of life without the possibility of parole (de facto life sentence) constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment” and “a prison sentence of 40 years or less imposed on a juvenile offender does not constitute a de facto life sentence in violation of the eighth amendment because it provides some meaningful opportunity to obtain release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.” Id. at ¶ 14-15.

The appellate court held that Parker demonstrated cause because “Reyes and Buffer had not been decided when he filed his initial post-conviction petition and, thus, was not available to” him at the time of filing. Moreover, the Court ruled that although his sentence was below the line drawn in Buffer and is not a de facto life sentence, Parker still demonstrated prejudice, in that he showed a reasonable probability that he would have achieved a better result if the trial court had correctly applied the constitutional limitations of juvenile sentences (considering that Buffer applies retroactively). Id. at ¶ 18.

Ultimately, the appellate court held that retroactive application of Buffer constitutes cause and prejudice for purposes of being granted leave to file a successive post-conviction petition, reversed the decision of the Circuit Court of Washington County denying Parker’s motion for leave, and remanded for further proceedings. Id. at ¶ 18.