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Quick takes on Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court criminal opinions

Our panel of leading appellate attorneys review Thursday's Illinois Supreme Court opinions in the criminal cases People v. Johnson and In re Shelby R.

People v. Johnson

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

At issue was whether Section 4-2002.1(a) of the Counties Code allows for imposition of a $50 State’s Attorney fee for hearing a 2-1401 petition. The statute refers only to imposition of the fee for habeas corpus proceedings.

The Court rejected the argument that “habeas corpus” was meant to refer, generically, to any collateral proceedings, noting that habeas corpus has a specific meaning. Considering the plain language of the statute as the best indication of legislative intent, the Court concluded that the reference to “habeas corpus” was meant to encompass the various types of habeas corpus proceedings (e.g., habeas corpus ad prosequendum, habeas corpus ad respondendum, habeas corpus ad testificandum), and nothing more. Inclusion of any other collateral proceedings would have to come from the

While this decision is not particularly broad-reaching, it does demonstrate the Court’s adherence to long-standing principles of statutory construction, beginning with looking first to the plain language of the statute.  Where the plain language is clear, the Court will go no further in interpreting a statute’s meaning.

In re Shelby R.

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

The principle issue before the court was whether the Juvenile Court Act (JCA) authorizes the commitment to the Department of Juvenile Justice (DOJJ) of a minor who violates probation for unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor.  It does not.

Before addressing the merits, the Court had to confront the mootness issue because the minor had served the complete sentence which she was now challenging.  The Court found that the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine applied, rejecting the State’s assertion that the doctrine was limited to those situations where there was conflicting precedent, disarray in the law, or some other factor rendering a decision
“especially useful” to public officers.  The Court rejected the State’s arguments, noting in the process that even a question of first impression (like the one here) can fit within the public interest exception.

As for the substantive issue, the minor argued that DOJJ commitment was improper under the provision of the JCA which limits the availability of DOJJ commitment to those instances where a term of incarceration is permitted for adults (705 ILCS 405/5-710).  Under the JCA, an “adult” is defined as anyone who is 21 years of age or older.  Of course, a person who is at least 21 could not be convicted of unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor, an element of which is that the individual be under 21 years of age.  So, no adult could be incarcerated for the offense of unlawful consumption of alcohol by a minor.

The State argued that the provision of the JCA which permits incarceration for a minor accused of a violation of a court order applied here because the minor was being sentenced after admitting to a petition to revoke probation, which is a court order (705 ILCS 405/1-4.1).  The Supreme Court engaged in a statutory construction analysis and concluded that the section’s reference to a minor “accused” of violation of a court order meant only those minors who have not yet been adjudicated delinquent.

The Court rejected an argument that Section 1-4.1 should be interpreted in lockstep with a similar, but not identical, federal provision, noting that the federal provision was not relevant to the issue here – whether incarceration was consistent with Illinois statutory language. The Court went on to find, though, that to the extent the federal statute was relevant it was telling that the Illinois provision was more narrowly written to include only those accused of violations, but not those adjudicated.  The Court concluded that the legislature could “have reasonably concluded that enlarging the circumstances under which a minor could be sentenced to incarceration is antithetical to the statutory policy of promoting the development and implementation of community-based programs to prevent delinquent behavior.”

Juvenile court practitioners will want to take note of this provision as it clarifies the potential dispositions available for offenses which if committed by an adult would not be a crime.  Also, the opinion contains a thorough discussion of the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine, including a brief history of the doctrine and cases in which it has been applied.

Posted on September 19, 2013 by Chris Bonjean
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