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January 27, 1994


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 92-CF-14. Honorable John J. Nelligan, Judge, Presiding.

Released for Publication March 3, 1994. Petition for Leave to Appeal Denied June 2, 1994.

McLAREN, Quetsch, Doyle

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mclaren

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the opinion of the court:

On January 29, 1992, the defendant, Peter M. DePalma, was charged by indictment with possession of a vehicle with knowledge that the vehicle identification number (VIN) had been removed, a Class 2 felony under the anti-theft provisions of the Illinois Vehicle Code (Code) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 95 1/2, par. 4-103(a)(4), (b)) (now 625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(4), (b) (West 1992))). The trial court denied the defendant's pretrial motion to declare the statutory provisions unconstitutional as overly broad and violative of the constitutional guarantees of due process and proportional penalties.

After a stipulated bench trial on February 13, 1992, the trial court found the defendant guilty of the charge and sentenced him to 18 months' conditional discharge and 41 days confinement in the county jail; credit was given for the 41 days already served. Defendant's motion to reconsider the constitutionality of the provisions and in arrest of judgment was denied, and this timely appeal followed.

On appeal, defendant again contends that section 4-103(a)(4) of the Code is overly broad because it criminalizes innocent conduct and, in conjunction with section 4-103(b) which makes the offense a Class 2 felony, violates the constitutional guarantees of due process and proportionate penalties. (See U.S. Const., amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §§ 2, 11.) Among other things, defendant argues in his initial brief that his conviction should be reversed because the evidence was insufficient to show that he possessed the vehicle with the missing identification number with knowledge accompanied by a criminal purpose. The parties were ordered to submit supplemental briefs to further develop the issue whether the evidence adduced at trial was sufficient to support a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt as to defendant's mental state, that is, whether defendant's conduct was accompanied by "criminal knowledge" or "knowledge plus criminal purpose" under People v. Johns (1992), 153 Ill. 2d 436, 441, 607 N.E.2d 148, and People v. Tolliver (1992), 147 Ill. 2d 397, 403, 589 N.E.2d 527. The State maintains that no "criminal intent" should be read into the statute defining the offense. We disagree and reverse defendant's conviction for the reasons that follow.

The record reveals that defendant was charged with the offense when he was found in possession of a gray 1985 Ford Mustang, bearing a Texas temporary buyer plate No. P-5748. According to the stipulated evidence, Officer Brian Siebrasse of the Village of Bloomingdale police department would testify that he responded to a police call on January 4, 1992, regarding a person who was sleeping in a car at the Meecham Forest Preserve. He went to the preserve and observed that the 1985 Mustang had no license plate, but had a Texas temporary buyer dashboard plate registered to Intercontinental Auto Brokers of Houston, Texas. He observed that the dashboard vehicle identification number (VIN) plate appeared to be missing. He observed defendant sleeping in the car.

Siebrasse spoke with defendant, and defendant said he knew the VIN plates on the dashboard and door jambs were missing as they were removed when the vehicle was stolen from the previous owner. Defendant said that in the past couple of weeks he had been stopped by the Elk Grove police and the Rolling Meadows police in connection with the VIN plates. Siebrasse would also testify that defendant told him he was the lawful owner of the car at the time and had been sleeping in the car. According to Siebrasse, after a thorough inspection of the car, no VIN plates were located on the door jambs or engine of the vehicle.

On January 11, 1992, after a more thorough inspection of the car, a portion of a VIN plate was located under the passenger side quarter panel. The National Insurance Crime Bureau was contacted, and that bureau was able to reconstruct the VIN using the portion of the number that was located under the passenger quarter panel. The VIN matched the VIN that was on the temporary buyer plate, and it was determined that the car had been reported stolen in Orlando, Florida, and was recovered on May 3, 1991.

The testimony of Officer Syverson of the Elk Grove police department would show that, on November 28, 1991, he observed no VINs when he had an opportunity to stop the same vehicle and would identify defendant as the driver. At that time, defendant was told to take care of the VIN problem and obtain registration for the vehicle.

On the basis of the stipulated evidence, the trial court found defendant guilty of the offense charged and imposed an agreed sentence.

The offense in question is defined by section 4-103(a)(4) which provides:

"Offenses relating to motor vehicles and other vehicles--Felonies. (a) It is a violation of this Chapter for:

(4) A person to buy, receive, possess, sell or dispose of a vehicle, or any essential part thereof, with knowledge that the identification number of the vehicle or any essential part thereof having an identification number has been removed or falsified." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 95 1/2, par. 4-103(a)(4) (now 625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(4) (West 1992)).)

A person convicted of a violation of that section is guilty of a Class 2 felony and may be imprisoned for not less than three, but not more than seven years. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 95 1/2, par. 4-103(b) (now

Page 209

625 ILCS 5/4-103(b) (West 1992)); Ill. Rev. Stat. 1991, ch. 38, par. 1005-8-1(a)(5) (now 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(5)(West 1992)).

Section 4-103(a)(4) is part of a statutory scheme of anti-theft laws found in chapter 4 of the Code whose purpose "'is to protect automobile owners against theft and to protect the general public against the commission of crimes involving stolen automobiles.'" ( People v. Morris (1990), 136 Ill. 2d 157, 162, 554 N.E.2d 235, quoting People v. One 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix Automobile (1982), 89 Ill. 2d 506, 510, 433 N.E.2d 1301.) Grouped under section 4-103 are offenses such as knowingly possessing, concealing, selling or disposing of a stolen or converted vehicle; knowingly removing, altering, defacing, destroying or falsifying a manufacturer's vehicle identification number or an essential part thereof; knowingly concealing or misrepresenting the identity of a vehicle or essential part thereof; ...

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