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In re M.P.

June 30, 1998

IN THE INTEREST OF M.P., A MINOR. (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
M.P., A MINOR, DFENDENT-APPELLANT).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable Christopher J. Donnelly, judge Presiding.

Following a bench trial, the circuit court found defendant M.P., a minor, delinquent based upon the charge of criminal trespass to a vehicle. The trial court sentenced defendant to one year probation and 100 hours of community service, and ordered, as conditions of his probation, a TASC referral, Gang Intervention Program, mandatory schooling, a 7 p.m. curfew and defendant's "removal of his tattoos" pursuant to the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/5 (West 1992)). On appeal, defendant contends that the trial court abused its discretion in ordering that, as one of the conditions of his probation, he remove tattoos on his arms which symbolized an alliance to a street gang. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse and remand.

On February 12, 1996, defendant, who was 16 years old, was stopped by Officer McDermott of the Chicago Police Department after he allegedly committed a traffic violation while operating a motor vehicle. When Officer McDermott ran the vehicle identification number, he discovered that the vehicle had been reported stolen. McDermott arrested defendant and brought him to the 14th District police station where defendant told McDermott that he rented the car from a person named "Fresh" for $70. Defendant was charged with possession of a stolen vehicle and criminal trespass to a vehicle. After a bench trial, the trial court found defendant delinquent based on criminal trespass to a vehicle. Defendant orally objected to the condition of the tattoo removal.

Prior to defendant's sentencing hearing, defendant's probation officer presented the court with a social investigation report regarding defendant. The report revealed that defendant had been a member of the Imperial Gangsters street gang for approximately five years. Defendant was very proud of his gang, within which he was considered the "enforcer." In fact, defendant was with his gang friends when he was arrested. The probation officer specifically noted that defendant had two tattoos, a pink panther with a crown on one upper arm and a bulldog with a crown on the other upper arm, which the officer described as "gang related." The probation officer felt that, considering defendant's "heavy gang involvement," defendant "probably had some idea that renting a car for $70 was not legitimate." The report also disclosed that, as a result of his gang involvement, defendant was shot in the leg in December 1995.

The report further stated that defendant attended school past the 9th grade until he was kicked out for gang fighting. While in school, defendant was enrolled in special education and behavioral disorder classes. Defendant stated that he liked school; however, he had numerous problems with teachers and other gangs in school. The probation officer believed that defendant had a lack of enthusiasm and interest in school, but noted that defendant appeared to be "extremely talented" in pursuing his interest in drawing. The report also stated that defendant told the probation officer that he had a good relationship with his mother and her boyfriend, with whom defendant was currently living, and that he often took care of various chores in the home. However, the probation officer noted that there appeared to be heavy gang activity throughout the neighborhood where defendant then resided. Defendant's mother reported that defendant had been complying with the 7 p.m. curfew imposed on him by the trial court at the inception of this case.

At defendant's sentencing hearing, the following colloquy occurred:

"THE COURT: What's one reason why you're here?

THE RESPONDENT: For the auto theft.

THE COURT: Well, that's the case, but what brings you here?

THE RESPONDENT: (No audible response.)

THE COURT: You don't even know, do you?

THE RESPONDENT: (No audible ...


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