Quick takes on Friday's Illinois Supreme Court Criminal opinion People v. Ligon
By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender
Dennis Ligon was armed with a BB gun when he approached a woman exiting her vehicle and took it from her. He was convicted of aggravated vehicular hijacking with a dangerous weapon other than a firearm (AVH/DW), a Class X felony. He was sentenced to natural life under the Habitual Criminal Act.
In a 2-1401 petition, Ligon raised a proportionate penalties challenge arguing that AVH/DW was identical to armed violence (AV) with a Category III weapon predicated on vehicular hijacking, a Class 1 offense.
The opinion got off to a good start for Ligon. First, the Supreme Court agreed that a 2-1401 petition was a proper vehicle for the challenge because Ligon raised a voidness challenge under the proportionate penalties clause. The Court also agreed that a proportionate penalties challenge could be made despite the ultimate sentencing under the Habitual Criminal Act, because the Act does not constitute an independent offense but merely increases punishment, expressly overruling People v. Cummings, 2014 IL App
From there, however, things went downhill for Ligon. The Court rejected Ligon’s proportionate penalties challenge. While the BB gun used in the offense was capable of being used in a dangerous manner as a bludgeon, that did not render it a “bludgeon” or similar class of weapon for purposes of being a Category III weapon for purposes of AV:
“[A]n object, regardless of how it is used, cannot be considered a
dangerous weapon for purposes of the armed violence statute unless it
is included in the three categories of weapons set forth in that
For AVH/DW purposes, on the other hand, “dangerous weapon” is not specifically defined and thus courts look to the common law. The common law definition of “dangerous weapon” includes not only per se dangerous objects but also those objects capable of being used in a dangerous manner.
This common law definition is broader than the Category III definition included in the AV statute.
Thus, while a BB gun is a dangerous weapon under the common law because it is capable of being used as a bludgeon, it is not a Category III dangerous weapon under the AV statute because it is not similar to the bludgeon-type weapons set out in that category.