Illinois Appeals Court Denies Motion to File Postconviction Petition for Defendant Age 22 at the Time of His Offense

On December 24, 2020, an Illinois appellate court affirmed a trial court’s judgement to deny Bobby Cooks’ motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition. Cooks was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for murders committed at age 22. Past Illinois appellate decisions have granted similar motions for defendants ages 18 to 21 at the time of their offenses.

Cooks was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to LWOP for offenses committed in October 1986, when he was 22 years old. Cooks contended that his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution because of his youth at the time of the offense. The circuit court denied him leave to file a successive petition for postconviction relief. Cooks appealed this denial.

The appellate court analyzed whether Cooks demonstrated both “cause for his failure to bring the claim in his or her initial postconviction proceedings and prejudice results from that failure.” The court found that Cooks did demonstrate cause because recent Illinois cases such as People v. House, 2015 IL App (1st) 110580 and People v. Harris, 2018 IL 121932, which granted leave to file successive postconviction petitions to young adult appellants above age 18 at the time of their offenses, were not decided until after Cooks’ sentencing.

However, the court found that Cooks did not establish prejudice. The court first noted that it has been established in Illinois case law that “the categorical findings made by Miller and its progeny under the Eighth Amendment apply only to juveniles” and so Cooks’ Eighth Amendment claim was without merit.

The court then stated that although Cooks cited several recent cases allowing postconviction petitions to young adults, these defendants were all between the ages of 18 and 21. Cooks, age 22 at the time of his offense, “fails to reference any federal or Illinois caselaw where an offender over 21 years old… received special consideration because of his age.” The court cited People v. Rivera, 2020 IL App (1st) 171430, where a defendant who was 23 at the time of the offense was denied leave to file a successive postconviction petition. Additionally, the court “observed that our state legislature has recognized that ‘youthful offenders’ are those under the age of 21.”

The court also considered Cooks’ specific circumstance, finding that his “actions in this case involve none of the immaturity or impetuosity that are the hallmarks of youth.” Thus, because Cooks was above the “youthful offender” age of 21, and his crime did not exhibit impulsivity, the appeals court affirmed the judgement of the trial court denying Cooks’ motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition.

Citation: People v. Cooks, 2020 IL App (1st) 171160-U

Keywords: Illinois, Miller v. Alabama, young adult, LWOP, adolescent brain

This post is the 81st post as part of an ongoing Center for Law, Brain & Behavior (CLBB) series tracking the latest developments in law and neuroscience cases. To see previous posts about recent cases, see the full case archive on the CLBB website. To see updates on legal scholarship, see the Neurolaw News, hosted by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience. This project is made possible through support of the Dana Foundation.

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Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

Center for Law, Brain & Behavior

at Mass General Hospital, Harvard Medical School