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03/22/89 the People of the State of v. James Peters

March 22, 1989





536 N.E.2d 465, 180 Ill. App. 3d 850, 129 Ill. Dec. 625 1989.IL.385

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Jo Daviess County; the Hon. Eric S. DeMar, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court. DUNN and LINDBERG, JJ., concur.


The State appeals (107 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)) from an order of the trial court which granted the motion of the defendant, James Peters, to dismiss the charge of reckless conduct (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 12-5(a)) for failure to state a cause of action. The State's sole contention in this court is that the criminal complaint properly charged the defendant with the offense of reckless conduct as a result of a reckless act he performed which resulted in bodily injury to himself. We affirm.

On September 22, 1987, the State filed a criminal complaint which stated that the defendant committed the offense of reckless conduct because he "caused bodily harm to himself in that while acting in a reckless manner he discharged a gun striking himself in the chest" in violation of section 12-5(a) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 12-5(a)). The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on October 20, 1987, in which he asserted that the charging instrument failed to state a cause of action and thus was void. After holding a hearing to adjudicate the motion, the trial court granted the defendant's motion to dismiss on November 20, 1987, and the State filed a timely notice of appeal.

Section 12 -- 5(a) of the Code defines the offense of reckless conduct in the following language:

"A person who causes bodily harm to or endangers the bodily safety of an individual by any means, commits reckless conduct if he performs recklessly the acts which cause the harm or endanger safety, whether they otherwise are lawful or unlawful." (Emphasis added.) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 12-5(a).)

The main thrust of the State's appellate argument is that the legislature, by using the words "an individual" instead of "another individual," did not intend to delimit the scope of the statute to persons other than defendants. According to the State, inasmuch as the purpose of the reckless conduct enactment is to deter certain reckless acts, "[where] bodily harm has resulted, the application of the statute should not, as a matter of policy, depend on whether the defendant has harmed himself rather than someone else." Continuing, the State asserts that the reckless conduct offense focuses on the performance of a reckless act that had the inherent risk of bodily injury rather than on the identity of the person who was harmed or endangered.

In response, the defendant draws our attention to the language of both the first-degree murder statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 9-1(a)) and the offense of battery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 12-3(a)), both of which use the words "an individual" rather than "another individual" in defining those offenses, and argues by analogy that the reckless conduct statute should be interpreted in the same manner as the murder and battery statutes-as applying only in cases where the victim is someone other than the defendant. The defendant also asserts that there is no basis upon which to predicate the State's implicit argument that the legislature, when it enacted the reckless conduct statute, sought to proscribe reckless acts that result in bodily harm or endangerment only to oneself. Lastly, the defendant urges that the statute in issue contains two elements: (1) the performance of a reckless act and (2) the causing of bodily injury or endangering the safety of an individual.

For the reasons we explicate below in some detail, we conclude that the State's assignment of error is not meritorious and that its argument flies in the face of the language of the statute itself, the intent of the legislature in enacting the law, Illinois case authority, the Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction defining the offense of reckless conduct, and logic.

The issue the State presents in this appeal requires us to construe the language of the reckless conduct statute (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1987, ch. 38, par. 12-5(a)), which we have set forth above. In approaching this task, we are cognizant that the primary objective in interpreting a statutory enactment is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. (People v. Dakuras (1988), 172 Ill. App. 3d 865, 869; People v. Gibson (1981), 99 Ill. App. 3d 616, 619, rev'd on other grounds (1982), 91 Ill. 2d 562.) Although we must look primarily to the language of the statute to discern the legislature's intention, we may also consider the objective of the statute and the evils the legislature sought to remedy and then arrive at a construction that is founded in common sense. (Gibson, 99 Ill. App. 3d at 619.) The law is equally clear that a criminal or penal statute must be construed strictly and may not be extended to encompass conduct which does not, by the strictest interpretation, fall within the ambit of the statute. (People v. Parvin (1988), 125 Ill. 2d 519, 525, aff'g People v. Parvin (1987), 164 Ill. App. 3d 29, 33-34.) Another relevant cardinal rule of statutory construction is that a court must resolve any ambiguity in a criminal statute in favor of the defendant. People v. Moritz (1988), 173 Ill. App. 3d 498, 504; People v. Spaulding (1988), 172 Ill. App. 3d 484, 485.

We begin our analysis by noting that the crime of reckless conduct is a broad, all-inclusive offense (Carrigan v. Board of Fire & Police Commissioners (1984), 121 Ill. App. 3d 303, 309; People v. Hayes (1979), 75 Ill. App. 3d 822, 825) that "is aimed primarily at the reckless homicide type of conduct where no homicide results" (Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 38, par. 12 -- 5(a), Committee Comments, at 573 (Smith-Hurd 1979)). However, the committee comments to section 12 -- 5(a) do not limit the scope of the statute to such conduct. (People v. Burton (1981), 100 Ill. App. 3d 1021, 1025.) We agree with Professor Decker's observation that our General Assembly established the offense of reckless conduct to punish criminally those reckless acts "that do not rise to the level of some form of assault or battery." (J. Decker, Illinois Criminal Law 325 (1986).) As the professor correctly notes, the various offenses ...

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