Appeal from the Circuit Court of Madison County. No. 94-CF-359. Honorable Phillip J. Kardis, Judge, presiding.
The Honorable Justice Chapman delivered the opinion of the court. Welch, J., and Maag, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chapman
The Honorable Justice CHAPMAN delivered the opinion of the court:
On March 1, 1994, defendant was charged with unlawful removal of manufacturer's identification number, unlawful concealment of vehicle identity, and unlawful possession of a vehicle with a falsified vehicle identification number. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted of unlawful removal of manufacturer's identification number and unlawful concealment of vehicle identity. On April 18, 1995, defendant was sentenced to two years' probation and was ordered to pay court costs and $240 restitution.
Defendant argues that his conviction for unlawful removal of manufacturer's identification number should be reversed because: (1) section 4-103(a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/4-103 (a)(2) (West 1994)) is unconstitutional as applied in this case; and (2) the class 2 penalty provision of the offense is disproportionate to the nature of the offense.
Defendant first argues that section 4-103(a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle Code is unconstitutional as applied in this case. Defendant states that Chapter 4, Article I, of the Illinois Vehicle Code, which section 4-103(a)(2) falls within, was designed to protect individual vehicle owners against theft and the general public against crimes involving stolen vehicles. Defendant further argues that section 4-103(a)(2) fails to adequately address the concerns of the legislature in attempting to curtail vehicle-theft-related activities and, instead, punishes otherwise innocent conduct.
The State argues that section 4-103(a)(2), as applied to defendant, is not unconstitutional because in this case the jury was instructed that in order for defendant to be found guilty under the statute, he had to have the intent to defraud or commit a crime.
The jury found defendant guilty of violating section 4-103 (a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle Code. Section 4-103 states in pertinent part:
"(a) It is a violation of this Chapter for:
(2) A person to knowingly remove, alter, deface, destroy or falsify a manufacturer's identification number of a vehicle or an engine number of a motor vehicle or any essential part thereof having an identification number." 625 ILCS 5/4-103 (a)(2) (West 1994).
Norman Thompson, an investigator with the Secretary of State police, testified that defendant made a voluntary statement regarding the events surrounding the red 1985 Honda. Investigator Thompson testified that in February 1993 defendant was employed as a mechanic by Al ton Motors and had performed repair work on the Honda. According to Thompson, defendant stated that the original Honda was "total junk" and that the owner of Alton Motors asked him to replace the front clip of the car with the front clip of another car. Defendant welded the parts of the cars together on the underside about six inches back from the door hinge area all the way across the parts. The 1985 Honda and the newly added front clip had different vehicle identification numbers. Defendant stated that he had attached the vehicle identification number (VIN) from the original part (the front clip of the red Honda) over the one stamped onto the firewall of the replacement part, because the owner of Alton Motors was concerned about the VINs being the same throughout the car and that the VINs not look as though they had been tampered with. Defendant told investigator Thompson that he did not want to tamper with the VIN but that he would not be paid for his work if he did not follow his employer's request.
Defendant testified that the work he performed on the original 1985 Honda was strictly body work, replacing the damaged right front fender and front clip unibody. Defendant testified that he was reluctant to cut the VIN out of the original Honda's damaged front clip because he was uncertain of the law with regard to VINs. Defendant testified that he left Alton Motors after completing this job.
Robin Wagner testified that she purchased the Honda at issue from Alton Motors and that she was unable to obtain title or license plates for the car. An investigator from the Secretary of State's office eventually came to her home and inspected the car. Wagner testified that she saw there was a metal plate covering the original VIN, and that she later learned that the original plate had been removed. Wagner testified that when she purchased the car she had no knowledge that her car had been welded together. She did not learn of this fact until the investigators took the car. Wagner testified that when considering whether to buy the car, she had asked whether the car had been in any accidents, but she had not asked about the car's VINs.
At the close of the evidence, defense counsel renewed his motion to have the statute declared unconstitutional. The court denied the motion, stating that defendant's reliance on his boss's instructions was not enough to exonerate him. The court concluded that, in the total context of the case, what occurred with the red 1985 Honda was an attempt to defraud the ...