APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, FOURTH DISTRICT
507 N.E.2d 869, 154 Ill. App. 3d 808, 107 Ill. Dec. 716 1987.IL.538
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Sangamon County; the Hon. Richard E. Mann, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the opinion of the court. SPITZ, P.J., concurs. JUSTICE LUND, Dissenting.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE KNECHT
Defendant, on October 4, 1985, was charged by complaint with the offense of reckless homicide based upon a May 8, 1982, automobile collision and subsequent death on July 28, 1985, of the victim in that collision. Defendant had previously pleaded guilty to five charges arising out of the May 1982 incident, including reckless driving and fleeing or attempting to elude police officers. A jury, in April of 1986, found the defendant guilty of reckless homicide, and the court imposed a sentence of six years' imprisonment. Defendant appeals that conviction as improper, raising the statute of limitations, double jeopardy, and the due process clause.
The pertinent facts are generally undisputed. On May 8, 1982, defendant drove his car at a high rate of speed, fleeing from city of Springfield and Sangamon County law-enforcement officers. The high-speed chase began after Springfield police responded to a report that a man was tampering with automobiles in the lot of a retail car dealership. Defendant ran a red light at the intersection of Laurel and Spring Streets in Springfield, striking a car driven by the victim, Patricia Weller. As a result of the collision, the victim suffered severe head injuries which rendered her decerebrate, or "lacking in cerebral functioning." She never regained consciousness and died three years later in July of 1985.
Defendant, on October 7, 1982, entered guilty pleas to five of six counts originally filed against him after the incident. He received concurrent sentences of up to five years on those counts, including six months each for reckless driving and fleeing or attempting to elude police officers, five years for theft over $500, three years for possession of burglary tools, and 364 days for tampering with a vehicle.
The accident victim died on July 28, 1985, more than three years and two months after the collision. An additional complaint was filed on October 4, 1985, charging the defendant with reckless homicide. The cause of the victim's death was listed as severe pneumonia, a condition directly linked to respiratory problems incurred while she remained in a coma.
On November 4, 1985, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. In that motion, defendant argued any possible prosecution for reckless homicide was barred by the applicable statute of limitations contained in section 3-5(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Criminal Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 3-5(b)). Defendant postulated that because prosecution for a felony under section 3-5(b) must be commenced within three years of the commission of the offense, and the reckless homicide complaint here was not filed until more than three years had elapsed since the accident, then the statute operated as a bar. The trial court denied that motion.
The cause proceeded to trial on April 8 and 9, 1986. A jury found defendant guilty of reckless homicide. Defendant was sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment on May 20, 1986. A notice of appeal was filed the following day.
Defendant's initial argument focuses on the three-year statute of limitations applicable to felony offenses, which he advances had already run when he was charged with reckless homicide. We note the general limitations statute contained in the Criminal Code reads in relevant portion:
"Sec. 3 -- 5. General Limitations. (a) A prosecution for murder, manslaughter, treason, arson, or forgery may be commenced at any time.
(b) Unless the statute describing the offense provides otherwise . . . a prosecution for any offense not designated in Subsection (a) must be commenced within 3 years after the commission of the offense if it is a felony . . .." (Emphasis added.) Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 3-5.
Defendant perceives the primary inquiry under the statute of limitations to be, What constitutes the actual "commission" of the offense of reckless homicide? With an eye to cases involving conspiracy prosecutions, defendant avers that an offense is committed for purposes of the statute only upon the happening of the "last overt act" performed on his part. (People v. Link (1936), 365 Ill. 266, 6 N.E.2d 201; People v. Walsh (1926), 322 Ill. 195, 153 N.E. 357.) He also analogizes to matters involving embezzlement or fraudulent conversion, noting a holding in which a court determined the statute of limitations only begins to run in those matters at the time the offense is committed, rather than when the offense itself is made manifest. (People v. Lee (1934), 356 Ill. 294, 190 N.E. 264.) Similarly, he maintains in this matter that the statute began to run as of the date he committed the last "overt act" on May 8, 1982, and not the date when "the result of his acts [were] manifested." He concludes that because the complaint charging him with reckless homicide was not filed until over three years after the accident, the statute bars his prosecution.
The State counters that defendant could not have been charged with reckless homicide until the death of the victim. The State argues the death of the victim on July 28, 1985, is the event which triggered the applicable statute of limitations for reckless homicide, not the date of the chase and accident. The State contends the filing of the complaint on October 4, 1985, was timely.
The issue here is whether the three-year statute of limitations for reckless homicide bars a prosecution for that offense when the death of an accident victim takes place more than three years after the incident, and when the complaint charging the defendant with the offense is filed within months of the victim's death but more than three years after the initial injury.
Defendant calls our attention to the common law principle, commonly referred to as the "year and a day rule," under which a victim had to expire within one year and one day of the injury for a charge of murder to lie. Illinois formerly had a statutory version of this rule prior to passage of a comprehensive criminal code. Relying on the language of the limitations statute in section 3-5, defendant notes that upon enactment of our Criminal Code of 1961, certain offenses such as murder, manslaughter, and arson are no longer subject to any limitation. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 3-5(a).) On the other hand, prosecutions for other felony offenses must be initiated within three years of the "commission" of the offense. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 3-5(b).) From this defendant reads into the statute an intent that a prosecution for murder may be commenced at any time, but a prosecution for reckless homicide can only be maintained within three years after infliction of the injury or fatal blow regardless of whether or not the victim expires within that time. In effect, defendant advances a statutory "three year and a day" rule for reckless homicide in Illinois.
Defendant either misapprehends or confuses the old "year and a day" rule as it relates to the statute of limitations. Under the common law, an outer limit was placed on the period that could elapse between an injury and death, the conclusive presumption being that the injury did not cause the death if the interval exceeded one year and one day. (Annot., 60 A.L.R.3d 1323, 1325, sec. 2 (1974).) The common rule was that, in order to constitute punishable homicide, death must ensue within a year and a day from infliction of a mortal wound. Ball v. United States (1891), 140 U.S. 118, 35 L. Ed. 377, 11 S. Ct. 761.
The "year and a day" rule gradually began to disappear as courts and legislatures alike recognized advances in medical and related sciences had resulted in the sustaining or prolonging of life in the face of trauma or disease. Considered antiquated in the face of present-day medical realities, the "year and a day" rule was either abrogated or modified by statute or by judicial fiat in many States. (Annot., 60 A.L.R.3d 1323 (1974).) Illinois subscribed to a "year and a day" rule prior to enactment of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1961, ch. 38, par. 365; see People v. Corder (1922), 306 Ill. 264, 137 N.E. 845), but the statute was repealed as of January 1, 1962 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1961, ch. 38, par. 35-1), and no such rule exists in Illinois today.
In any event, the "year and a day" rule did not operate in the nature of a statute of limitations barring prosecution. So long as the death occurred within the specified time frame, it was then presumed the blow or injury caused the death for purposes of a homicide prosecution. If the death did not occur within the specified time frame, it was presumed the injury did not cause the death. Under the latter scenario, a defendant in no event could be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter because the final element, a death caused by the defendant, was presumptively nonexistent.
Under the statute of limitations, on the other hand, the elements of the crime itself are manifest; the statute instead arises where the State prosecutes someone for a crime after a certain amount of time has elapsed. The statute represents a policy decision limiting the power of a sovereign to make an offender answer for a crime, even though he committed it, unless he is prosecuted with due diligence. The statute operates to encourage prompt investigation of a crime, to prevent ...