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Severe Sentence Stands in Cook County Cause and Prejudice Appeal

An appellate panel in the 1st District rejected a fourth petition by a convicted rapist for further relief from the de facto life sentence handed him more than two decades ago. A Cook County judge initially sentenced Dante Handy to 120 years in prison for his role in the home invasion and robbery that ended with a 15-year-old being left in the van that he and four others took from her father at gunpoint on a winter morning in 1997. While one of three permitted appeals made in the intervening years halved that sentence, Handy petitioned for further reduction based on the so-called cause and prejudice test and appealed a district court’s dismissal of that request.

Central to Handy’s petition was the evolving body of federal law that equates terms above 40 years to de facto life sentences for juvenile offenders. In 2019, the Illinois Supreme Court’s mandate that judges evaluate the capacity for rehabilitation of juvenile offenders in accordance with 8th Amendment definitions of cruel and unusual punishment. Handy was 18 at the time of the crime and confessed in a letter to his girlfriend but later recanted in court that he participated in the girl’s rape.

On appeal, Handy argued changes to the state constitution provided cause for post-convition relief above the permitted limits on such requests because they hadn’t yet been made at the time of his prior filings. And that the 60-year term was prejudiced because de facto life sentences are categorically banned under the revised regime. While judges termed the sentence ‘harsh’, they wrote that the Southside man’s participation in the rape and robbery meant that the lower court was within its discretion in applying penalties that the appeals court deemed proportionate to Handy’s crimes.

While precedent exists for those older than age 17 to obtain relief from long stretches, the appellate court’s ruling illustrates the limits to those exceptions. The DuPage County Defense Attorneys at The Chicagoland Law Firm represent clients in courts around the state, including in appeals of sentence. We are well-versed in juducial tendencies and use that knowledge to help client to achieve the best outcomes possible for the facts in their case. To learn more, contact our offices in Downers Grove and downtown Chicago for a free consultation. We can’t offer legal advice until you retain us. When you do, we will represent you zealously. We are your best defense.