Court holds that “cause” and “prejudice” not met on proportionate penalties claim that does not arise out of Miller

In the People v. Hoover2019 IL App (2d) 170070, the Appellate Court of Illinois Second District reviewed and ultimately affirmed the decision of the Circuit Court of Stephenson County denying Hoover leave to file a successive petition under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act, on the grounds that the proposed petition did not satisfy the cause and prejudice prongs of section 122-1(f) of the Act.

Following a reneged-upon plea deal, confession and jury trial, appellant Michael Hoover was found guilty of first degree murder and armed robbery in July of 1994. Id. at ¶ 2-6. At sentencing, the court heard testimony from multiple women alleging that Hoover had harassed and made threats of violence (including murder) to them when they were as young as 14 years old; another woman testified to death threats made by Hoover to her landlord. Id. at ¶ 6. Another individual testified that he and Hoover had committed numerous burglaries and auto thefts between 1982 and 1989, three of which they were charged and convicted for. Id. at ¶ 7. A roommate of Hoover’s (at the time of the armed robbery and murder), Laura Jones, testified that Hoover sold marijuana and cocaine from their residence, abused her physically and psychologically, and made numerous death threats to her (both while residing with her and incarcerated). Id.at ¶ 8. Further, a police officer testified to Hoover’s possession and ownership of an illegally sawed-off shotgun found during a search of his storage locker in 1993. Id. at ¶ 9.

Hoover was sentenced to an extended term of life imprisonment for first degree murder, based on the exceptionally brutal or heinous conduct indicative of wanton cruelty. Hoover received an additional extended term of 50 years’ imprisonment for armed robbery. Id. at ¶ 11. The court held that no statutory factors in mitigation applied, as Hoover had not led a law-abiding life for any substantial period prior to the offenses. The court cited convictions in October 1987, November 1987, May 1988, July 1988, and October 1991 as support for its reasoning that he was “very likely to commit further crimes.” Id. at ¶ 12. The only non-statutory factor in mitigation that applied was Hoover’s testimony for the State at a codefendant’s trial. The court held that because of Hoover’s “almost nill” rehabilitative potential and extensive criminal history (twelve criminal convictions since the age of 17), a lengthy sentence was needed to deter others from committing similar crimes. Id. at ¶ 14.

On appeal, Hoover contended his life sentence for murder was excessive in light of his being only an accomplice and his testimony for the State. Hoover also contended that his armed robbery sentence was legally erroneous. The court refused to reduce the sentence for murder because of the gratuitous cruelty of the murder, Hoover’s role in planning and facilitating the crime, and the ample precedent for life sentences for accomplices in similar cases. The court reduced the armed robbery sentence to 30 years, but otherwise affirmed. Id. at ¶ 16. In 2008, Hoover unsuccessfully petitioned for post-conviction relief under the Act, claiming that his sentence violated Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), which petition was summarily dismissed by the trial court and affirmed on appeal, as Apprendi does not apply retroactively to collateral proceedings. Id. at ¶ 17.

On November 30, 2016, Hoover moved under Section 122-1(f) of the Post-Conviction Hearing Act for leave to file a successive petition, claiming that the law allowing a life sentence for first-degree murder was unconstitutional as applied, under both the Eighth Amendment and Illinois’ Proportionate Penalties clause. Id. at ¶ 19. Hoover’s petition relied upon Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460 (2012), which held that life sentences for minors violated the Eighth Amendment. Hoover argued that although he was not a minor at the time of offense, he was a “young adult” and the principle of Miller should apply, consistent with the application of Miller in People v. House, 2015 IL App (1st) 110580. Id. at ¶ 19.

Hoover contended that the “cause” requirement of Section 122-1(f) had been satisfied because Miller and House were decided long after proceedings on the first petition concluded; Hoover further argued that he satisfied the “prejudice” requirement because the court would’ve been required to consider his youth and imposed a shorter sentence. Id. at ¶ 20. Both the motion for leave to file a successive petition and a motion to reconsider were denied by the trial court.

On appeal, Hoover abandoned his Eighth Amendment claim in the wake of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Harris, 2018 IL 121932, which held that Miller does not apply to anyone who was 18 years of age or older when they offended. Id. at ¶ 22. As a result, the appellate court’s review was limited to the proportionate penalties claim. The Proportionate Penalties clause requires all penalties to be determined according to the seriousness of the offense and with the objective of restoring the offender to useful citizenship. The court disagreed with Hoover’s contention that he’d satisfied the cause-and-prejudice test for his claims, citing their decision in People v. LaPointe, 2018 IL App (2d) 160903, which stated, among other things, that the court is not required to make specific findings about a defendant’s rehabilitative potential nor detail how it decided the appropriateness of a life sentence, as justification. Id. at ¶ 24-26. The proceedings and rulings in LaPointe closely mirror that of Hoover.

In the courts’ application of LaPointe, they held that Hoover’s claim failed the “cause” prong of Section 122-1(f), as the proportionate penalties claim could have been raised in the first petition under the Act, and the principle that a defendant’s youth is relevant to sentencing was well-established and was therefore not created by Miller. Id. at ¶ 37. Moreover, the court held that Hoover’s claim failed the “prejudice” prong because Hoover’s primary contention, that the trial court erred by failing to consider his youth, did not constitute a genuine claim of a constitutional deprivation, as set out in LaPointe. Further, the court noted that the claim itself is severely undercut by the record, as the court weighed Hoover’s youth, relative criminal history and “almost nill” rehabilitative potential at sentencing, and is not required to detail all of those considerations on the record when deciding a sentence. Id. at ¶ 39.

The court also ruled that Hoover’s claims could have been raised on direct appeal and were thus barred by forfeiture, as in LaPointe. Id. at ¶ 40. Finally, the court held that “it cannot be seriously contended that [Hoover’s] life sentence was wholly disproportionate to his offense, if indeed it was disproportionate at all.” Id. at ¶ 42. The court repeated their determination that Hoover’s role in planning and facilitating the murder was both extensive and crucial, and that the murder met the “exceptionally brutal or heinous” standard. As a result, the court held that not only was the sentence no shock to the moral sense of the community, as would be required to constitute a constitutional deprivation, it was not even an abuse of discretion. Id. at ¶ 42. Thus, the motion did not satisfy either the “cause” or “prejudice” prong of Section 122-1(f) of the Act.

The Appellate Court of Illinois Second District affirmed the judgement of the Circuit Court of Stephenson County. Id. at ¶ 44.

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