Illinois Bar Journal

August 2016Volume 104Number 8Page 12

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Lack of supervision option does not render aggravated speeding law unconstitutional, Illinois Supreme Court rules

In People v. Rizzo, the supreme court overturned a circuit court ruling that refusing to allow supervision for aggravated speeding is too harsh a penalty compared to those for other Class A misdemeanors.

On June 16, 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court issued its ruling in People v. Rizzo, 2016 IL 118599. At issue was whether Illinois' sentencing guidelines for aggravated speeding are unconstitutional. The Unified Code of Corrections did not allow court supervision for those charged with violating Illinois' aggravated speeding law (730 ILCS 5/5-6-1(p)). (The provision has since been amended to allow supervision for some, but not all, drivers charged with aggravated speeding.)

In a case emanating from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Wheeling attorney Ilia Usharovich argued that the provision is unconstitutional because it violates the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 11). Many other moving violations allow courts to place a motorist under supervision; the only penalty for aggravated speeding at the time was a conviction for a Class A misdemeanor.

The Circuit Court of Cook County held that the Code's provision was unconstitutional because it violated due process, equal protection, and the proportionate penalties clause. The circuit court issued Rule 18 ("[f]indings of unconstitutionality") findings; the Illinois Supreme Court took the case as a direct appeal and reversed the circuit court's decision.

One of the circuit court's main findings is that the penalty for aggravated speeding is "cruel and degrading punishment." Rizzo, ¶ 12. It looked to other, similar Class A misdemeanors and noted that many of them involve bodily harm or death. Some of those offenses provide for court supervision as a consequence. The circuit court also observed that many other moving violations, including driving under the influence, driving without insurance, and driving with a revoked or suspended license all give judges the option of disposing of the case via ordering court supervision.

The court determined that the punishment does not fit the crime. Its Rule 18 findings stated that the only unconstitutional provision of the law is that it does not provide for court supervision for aggravated speeding. It held that the law is unconstitutional both facially and as applied.

The supreme court in Rizzo first addressed the circuit court's proportionate penalties analysis, which found that the lack of supervision as a sentencing option is disproportionate to other statutes. The Rizzo court was not swayed, stating that it does not find the legislature's prohibition of a supervision disposition to be cruel and degrading.

The court briefly discussed the argument that saddling an individual with a misdemeanor conviction could negatively affect the person's life. The court opined that while a conviction might inconvenience an individual seeking employment or a loan, the "collateral consequences of conviction…do not qualify as part of the 'penalty' for purposes of proportionate penalty analysis." Id. ¶ 43.

Collateral consequences

Wheaton Attorney Donald Ramsell's amicus brief in Rizzo focused on those collateral consequences. He wrote on behalf of the appellee for the Illinois State Bar Association, the Illinois Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the DuPage County Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.

Ramsell argued that society views offenders differently, regardless of their crime. Since a conviction in Illinois can never be expunged, those convicted of aggravated speeding will always carry their conviction with them, he wrote. His brief focused on the "cruel and degrading" standard, arguing that a strict liability offense based on an "arbitrary" amount of speed over the posted limit should be subject to the possibility of supervision.

The Illinois Constitution states that the purpose of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate offenders, Ramsell notes. His view, and that of the amici, is that a charge of aggravated speeding, where there is no bodily injury or death, should not preclude the opportunity to give a motorist court supervision.

In a footnote, the Rizzo court addressed the amicus argument, stating "'Different' simply does not translate into 'cruel' or 'degrading.' There must be a disconnect between the gravity of defendant's offense and the statutorily mandated sense that 'shocks the moral sense' or is inconsistent with community 'standard[s] of decency.'" Id. at fn. 5.

The court also performed a due process analysis, applying the rational basis test. It found that the legislature's choice to prohibit court supervision for the offense of aggravated speeding "suggests the seriousness with which the legislature regarded this conduct." Id. ¶ 46. In a special concurrence, Justice Burke says that a subsequent amendment to the statute in question did, in fact, provide for the possibility of supervision for an aggravated speeding charge. Usharovich filed his petition for rehearing on July 11, 2016.

Matthew Hector
Matthew Hector is a senior associate at Woerthwein & Miller.

Member Comments (1)

This is a terrible law and an equally terrible decision by the Supreme Court. Essentially, the court allows the arbitrarily low setting of speed limits and then further adds injury to idiocy by upholding the legislature's arbitrary setting of a class-A misdemeanor speed above the arbitrary limit. Has anyone even considered that 85 mph (in a 55 mph zone) in a sports car is an entirely different occurrence than 85 mph in a semi-tractor trailer, a box delivery truck or even an SUV or minivan? This is why the 30 mph threshold for aggravated speeding is completely arbitrary - no mitigating factors are considered, such as the skill/experience of the driver, the capabilities of the car to stop, swerve or avoid an accident, or even the mechanical condition of the car. There is a tremendous difference between a race car driver piloting a new Ferrari and a brand new driving piloting a beat up, 20 year old minivan with failing brakes and worn out shocks. The fact that the law does not allow the judge to even consider such factors should be prima facie evidence of its unconstitutionality.

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