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People v. Steppan

OPINION FILED JANUARY 23, 1985.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE,

v.

DONALD STEPPAN, APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Defendant, Donald Steppan, was charged by information with burglary, in that he, without authority, entered a motor vehicle with intent to commit therein a theft, and with possession of burglary tools in violation of sections 19-1 and 19-2 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, pars. 19-1, 19-2). Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Du Page County, he was found guilty of both offenses. In his post-trial motion, he argued that he was not properly found guilty of burglary as defined by the statute. He also argued that section 19-1(b) of the Code violates the due process and limitation-of-penalties provisions of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, secs. 2, 11) because under section 19-1(b), burglary of a motor vehicle may be punished more severely than theft of a motor vehicle. The trial court agreed that section 19-1(b) was unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case, and, therefore, did not impose a sentence on the burglary conviction. Defendant was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for the offense of possession of burglary tools, to be served consecutively to sentences imposed on him in two unrelated cases. The State appealed, directly to this court, the trial court's finding that section 19-1(b) is unconstitutional (94 Ill.2d R. 302(a)(1)), and defendant appealed his convictions and sentence to the appellate court. We granted defendant's motion to transfer his appeal to this court.

The issues before us are: (1) May a conviction for burglary under section 19-1 be predicated upon entry into a vehicle with intent to steal the vehicle itself? (2) Does section 19-1(b) of the Code violate the due process and limitation-of-penalties provisions of our constitution in that it provides for a more serious penalty for burglary of a motor vehicle than for theft of the motor vehicle itself? and (3) Did the trial court err by imposing a consecutive sentence of imprisonment on defendant for possession of burglary tools?

On October 4, 1982, at approximately 3 a.m., David Fortier was awakened from his sleep by a sound. Perceiving the sound to be one of a starting car, Fortier alighted from his bed and looked out his third-story apartment window. According to his testimony, he saw a light and what appeared to be two persons inside his 1970 Chevrolet Nova, which was parked on the street adjacent to his apartment building. He told his wife to call the police, dressed, and then proceeded downstairs to investigate. Upon arriving downstairs, Fortier saw a police squad car drive into a parking lot near his apartment. He directed Officer George Blaha, of the Carol Stream police department, to his car. Blaha pointed his spotlight on the Nova. Fortier testified that he then saw the defendant and Peter J. Audette leaving the car via the front passenger door. Several tools were found near the car, none of which Fortier claimed were his. Except for the ignition core, nothing was missing from the vehicle.

Blaha corroborated much of Fortier's testimony. He testified that, upon observing the defendant and Audette leave Fortier's car, he ordered the two men into the street, placed them under arrest, and called for a backup unit.

Officer Richard Willing testified that he assisted Blaha in the arrest of defendant and Audette. According to his testimony, he found the car's ignition key guide on the right front floor mat of the vehicle and the inner core of the ignition in some grass about 15 feet from the car. The ignition core was attached to a socket wrench. Two screwdrivers also were found near the car. Willing testified that he recovered a flashlight, a roll of black electrical tape, and a pair of needlenose pliers from Audette's jacket. No tools were found on defendant.

The defendant did not dispute the fact that he was present when Audette entered the vehicle the morning in question. He testified, however, that he never personally entered the car. According to defendant, he stood outside the car the entire time Audette was inside the vehicle.

Defendant, in his post-trial motion, contended, inter alia, that the State had failed to prove all of the elements of burglary as set forth in the statute. The trial court disagreed and denied defendant's motion for a new trial based on that ground. Defendant renews the argument in this court that he was not properly convicted of burglary as defined by the statute. Burglary is defined in section 19-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 38, par. 19-1), and that section provides in relevant part:

"(a) A person commits burglary when without authority he knowingly enters or without authority remains within a * * * motor vehicle as defined in The Illinois Vehicle Code * * * or any part thereof, with intent to commit therein a felony or theft."

Defendant asserts that the word "therein" as used in section 19-1(a) refers only to property taken from inside the vehicle. He maintains that the State's evidence in the instant case established that he entered an automobile with the intent to steal the entire vehicle, and not its contents. Thus, he argues that the State failed to prove a violation of section 19-1. The State does not dispute defendant's characterization of the evidence. It asserts, however, that a conviction under section 19-1 can be predicated upon an unauthorized entry into a vehicle with the intent to steal the vehicle itself.

The precise issue raised by defendant has not been decided by this court. The appellate court, however, has construed section 19-1(a) and held that a person may properly be convicted of burglary where the State's evidence proves he entered the vehicle with the intent to steal the entire vehicle. (People v. Mullinex (1984), 125 Ill. App.3d 87, 89-90; People v. Sansone (1981), 94 Ill. App.3d 271, 273-74.) Application of general rules of statutory construction to this statute compels us to conclude that the appellate court's interpretation of section 19-1(a) is correct.

The function of the courts in construing statutes is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. (People v. Rink (1983), 97 Ill.2d 533, 539; People v. Robinson (1982), 89 Ill.2d 469, 475.) In ascertaining the intent of the legislature, it is proper for the court not only to consider the language employed by the statute, but also to look to the "`reason and necessity for the law, the evils to be remedied, and the objects and purposes to be obtained.'" (People v. Alejos (1983), 97 Ill.2d 502, 511; see also People v. Bratcher (1976), 63 Ill.2d 534, 543.) Moreover, in construing statutes, the courts presume that the General Assembly, in passing legislation, did not intend absurdity, inconvenience or injustice. Illinois Crime Investigating Com. v. Buccieri (1967), 36 Ill.2d 556, 561.

After applying the above principles to the statute here, we cannot agree with defendant that the inclusion of the word "therein" in the statute restricts the scope of section 19-1(a) to situations in which a defendant steals or intends to steal something from inside a vehicle. The language of a statute should be given its plain and ordinary meaning. (People v. Pettit (1984), 101 Ill.2d 309, 313; People v. Brown (1982), 92 Ill.2d 248, 256.) The word "therein" has been commonly understood to mean "in that place." (Black's Law Dictionary 1325 (5th ed. 1979).) As thus understood, the inclusion of the word "therein" in the statute does not necessarily require that a defendant intend to steal something from inside the vehicle. It is more logical, in light of the statute's purpose, to construe the inclusion of the word "therein" as merely requiring that a defendant's intent to steal or commit a felony coincide with the unauthorized entry.

It is obvious from the language of the statute that the legislature intended to protect the security and integrity of certain specified enclosures, including motor vehicles. Adoption of defendant's interpretation of section 19-1(a) would seriously undermine the protection afforded and intended by the statute. Under defendant's view of section 19-1, a person who, without authority, enters a vehicle with intent to steal an item from inside the vehicle could be convicted of burglary. However, under defendant's construction of the statute, the same result would not occur if a person intended to steal an entire vehicle. In that case, a person could only be convicted of theft or attempted theft, the conviction of which provides for less serious penalties. (See People v. Mullinex (1984), 125 Ill. App.3d 87, 90.) We do not believe such a result was intended by the General Assembly. Therefore, we hold that a person may properly be convicted of burglary under section 19-1(a) when, without authority, he knowingly enters ...


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