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People v. Martinez

May 08, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LOUIS MARTINEZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 96--CF--1060 Honorable Ann Brackley Jorgensen, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Doyle

The State appeals the order of the circuit court of Du Page County dismissing an indictment that charged defendant, Louis Martinez, with driving while his license was suspended (625 ILCS 5/6--303 (West 1996)). The State contends that the court erred in dismissing the indictment on the ground that the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) defendant was driving was not a "motor vehicle" as contemplated by section 6--303.

The facts are simple and not in dispute. On October 17, 1994, defendant was driving an ATV on a public street in Bensenville. His license had been revoked because of earlier convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol and driving with a revoked license.

Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment. He argued that the statute prohibits being in actual physical control of a "motor vehicle" while one's driver's license is suspended or revoked and that the ATV he was driving was not a motor vehicle as defined by the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Code). See 625 ILCS 5/1--146 (West 1996). The trial court agreed and dismissed the indictment. After the court denied the State's motion to reconsider, the State filed a timely notice of appeal.

On appeal, the State argues simply that the plain language of the Code includes an ATV within the definition of a motor vehicle. In construing a statute, a court's primary duty is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent in enacting the statute. Collins v. Board of Trustees of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, 155 Ill. 2d 103, 110 (1993). The statutory language is usually the best indication of the drafters' intent, and the language should be given its plain, ordinary, and popularly understood meaning. Collins, 155 Ill. 2d at 111.

Defendant was indicted for violating section 6--303 of the Code, which provides as follows:

"Any person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on any highway of this State at a time when such person's driver's license *** is revoked or suspended *** shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor." 625 ILCS 5/6--303(a) (West 1996).

A person guilty of a second or subsequent offense commits a Class 4 felony. 625 ILCS 5/6--303(d) (West 1996). The Code defines "vehicle" as follows:

"Every device, in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devices moved by human power, devices used exclusively upon stationary rails or tracks and snowmobiles ***." 625 ILCS 5/1--217 (West 1996). Further, the Code defines "motor vehicle" as follows:

"Every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails, except for vehicles moved solely by human power and motorized wheelchairs." 625 ILCS 5/1-- 146 (West 1996).

Clearly, defendant's ATV is a vehicle because it is a "device[] in, upon or by which any person *** may be transported *** upon a highway." 625 ILCS 5/1--217 (West 1996). Furthermore, it is not a device propelled by human power or operated upon stationary rails, and it is not a snowmobile. It is also apparent that the ATV is a motor vehicle because it is self-propelled, is not operated upon rails, is not moved by human power, and is not a motorized wheelchair. The plain language of the statute demonstrates that an ATV is a motor vehicle.

In Roberts v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 231 Ill. App. 3d 713, 717 (1992), the court held that an ATV was a "motor vehicle" for purposes of an uninsured motorist insurance policy. The court noted that the Illinois Insurance Code required that uninsured motorist coverage be provided on every "motor vehicle" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 73, par. 755a (now 215 ILCS 5/143a (West 1996))). Noting that the Insurance Code did not define that term, the court then looked to section 1--146 of the Illinois Vehicle Code and determined that that definition clearly included an ATV (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 95½, par. 1--146 (now 625 ILCS 5/1--146 (West 1996))).

Defendant correctly points out that Roberts applied the definition in the context of a civil statute rather than a criminal provision, which is required to be strictly construed in favor of the accused. However, this is merely a rule of construction and does not justify a court's ignoring the plain language of the statute.

On facts remarkably similar to those of this case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court concluded that an ATV was a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code, so that defendant was guilty of driving without a valid driver's license while operating it on a public street. Commonwealth v. Predmore, 347 Pa. Super. 195, ___, 500 A.2d 474, 475-76 (1985); see also Fitch v. State, 313 Ark. 122, ___, 853 S.W.2d 874, 876 (1993) (ATV was "motor vehicle" for purposes of Arkansas' driving while intoxicated statute); cf. State v. Benolken, 838 P.2d 280, ...


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