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People v. Fuller

July 01, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Miller

9-November 1998.

The defendant, Veronica Fuller, was charged in the circuit court of Kane County with filing a false report of a vehicle theft, a violation of section 4-103(a)(6) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(6) (West 1996)). Before trial, defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the potential penalty for that offense, a Class 2 felony (625 ILCS 5/4-103(b) (West 1996)), was "unconstitutional as applied to the defendant under the facts of this case." The trial Judge agreed with the defendant and dismissed the charge. The State appealed that ruling to the appellate court (145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1)), which, on its own motion, later transferred the cause to this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rules 365 and 603 (155 Ill. 2d R. 365; 134 Ill. 2d R. 603). We now reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand the cause to that court for further proceedings.

The following facts are not in dispute here. On June 12, 1996, at approximately 3:20 a.m., defendant called the Carpentersville police to report that her former husband, Edward Fuller, had stolen her car. Edward was soon apprehended with the car and was arrested. At 5:30 that morning, defendant gave a written statement to the police in which she described the events surrounding the theft of her car. According to the statement, Edward came to defendant's home at approximately 3:15 a.m., entering through the front door. An order of protection had been issued against Edward, and defendant told him to leave before she called the police. Instead of leaving, however, Edward asked defendant whether he could use her car. Defendant said that he could not. Edward then requested money from the defendant, who replied that she had no money to give him. According to defendant's statement, Edward then took some money from defendant's purse, grabbed the car keys, and left, saying that he would return the car in 45 minutes. After Edward drove away, defendant called the police. Defendant concluded her statement by noting that after she called the police, an officer came to her home and had defendant sign a complaint against Edward.

Charges were eventually brought against Edward, and an investigator for the public defender's office, which was representing Edward, later interviewed the defendant about the preceding events. In a report dated April 8, 1997, the investigator said that, during the interview, the defendant told him that she had lied to the police about Edward's stealing her car. According to the investigator's report, the defendant "stated that she has gone to the police station on numerous occasions to make complaints about Edward that were not true. [Defendant] stated that the reason she would report this false information was because she would get mad at Edward for various reasons and file false complaints against him to get back at him." The investigator's report further explained that the defendant reviewed her statement to the police from June 12, 1996, and told the investigator that "what was written in the statement was not true and that Edward never came to her apartment without permission and that Edward never took her car without permission." According to the investigator's report, the defendant now "simply wanted to tell the truth because it is not fair for Edward to be in jail for something that he did not do."

In June 1997, defendant was charged by indictment with filing a false report of a vehicle theft, a violation of section 4-103(a)(6) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(6) (West 1996)). Section 4-103(a)(6) provides that it is unlawful for "[a] person to knowingly make a false report of the theft or conversion of a vehicle to any police officer of the State." The offense is a Class 2 felony (625 ILCS 5/4-103(b) (West 1996)), punishable by three to seven years' imprisonment (730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(5) (West 1996)) and, at the time relevant here, by a fine of $10,000 (730 ILCS 5/5-9-1(a)(1) (West 1996)). As an alternative to incarceration, a period of probation may be imposed for the offense. 730 ILCS 5/5-5-3(c)(2) (West 1996).

The defendant later moved to dismiss the charge. In her motion, the defendant noted that under the disorderly conduct statute, section 26-1(a)(4) of the Criminal Code of 1961, it is a crime to knowingly make a false report to a police officer that "an offense has been committed." 720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(4) (West 1996). At that time, a violation of section 26-1(a)(4) was a Class B misdemeanor (720 ILCS 5/26-1(b) (West 1996)), punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to six months (730 ILCS 5/5-8-3(a)(2) (West 1996)). We note that the penalty for the offense has since been elevated, and it is now a Class 4 felony. See Pub. Act 90-456, eff. January 1, 1998, codified at 720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(4) (West 1997 Supp.). In the motion to dismiss, the defendant asserted that "a person who makes a false report of a murder, rape, or of an armed hostage situation commits a Class B misdemeanor, while an angry wife who claims that her husband took her car without her permission faces the penalty of a Class 2 felony." The defendant argued that subjecting her to the penalty of a Class 2 felony, under the circumstances shown here, would violate her rights to due process and equal protection and, in addition, would violate the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §11). The defendant asked the circuit Judge to declare section 4-103(a)(6) unconstitutional "as applied to the defendant in this case."

During the hearing on the dismissal motion, defense counsel tendered to the court the statement the defendant had originally given to the police and the investigator's report discussed above. Defense counsel also stipulated that the defendant made a false report of a vehicle theft. In argument before the court, counsel noted that the defendant had been charged in another case with disorderly for having falsely accused her former husband of rape; counsel observed that the potential punishment for that offense was less than the potential punishment for the present charge.

At the Conclusion of the hearing, the trial Judge stated:

"All right. Based upon the stipulations and case law, I am going to grant the motion to dismiss. I am sure the Appellate Court will give us a well-reasoned opinion."

The court also entered a written order, which provided, in its entirety: "This case coming on to be heard for Defendant's Motion to Dismiss based on disproportionate penalties, the court having heard argument, the defendant's motion is granted."

The State appealed the circuit court's ruling to the appellate court. 145 Ill. 2d R. 604(a)(1). After the parties had filed their briefs, the appellate court entered an order transferring the cause to this court. The order stated:

"On the court's own motion, the appeal in General No. 2-97-1261 is hereby transferred to the Illinois Supreme Court pursuant to Supreme Court Rules 365 and 603.

Where, as here, the trial court rules that statutory penalties violate the proportionate penalties provision, the appeal is taken directly to the Supreme Court under Rule 603. See, e.g., People v. Davis, 177 Ill. 2d 495, 497-98 (1997); People v. Lewis, 175 Ill. 2d 412, 414 (1996); People v. Miller, 171 Ill. 2d 330, 331 (1996). This is true even where the trial court's ruling employs an `as applied' analysis. See Miller, 171 Ill. 2d at 331-33; see also People v. Shephard, 152 Ill. 2d 489, 493 (1992).

The clerk of the court is directed to transmit to our supreme court the record on appeal, the briefs, all other papers filed in this appeal, and this order of transfer."

We permitted the parties' appellate briefs to stand as their briefs before this court.


At the outset, we consider on our own motion our jurisdiction over the present appeal. Although the parties have not raised any question regarding this court's jurisdiction, it is appropriate that we consider the issue, given our independent duty as a reviewing court to consider our appellate jurisdiction. Franson v. Micelli, 172 Ill. 2d 352, 355 (1996); Ferguson v. Riverside Medical Center, 111 Ill. 2d 436, 440 (1985); Archer Daniels Midland Co. v. Barth, 103 Ill. 2d 536, 539 (1984).

The appellate court concluded that jurisdiction properly lies in this court pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 603 and, on that basis, transferred the cause according to Supreme Court Rule 365 (155 Ill. 2d R. 365 (authorizing courts of review to transfer cases that have been appealed to the wrong court)). Rule 603 provides that "[a]ppeals in criminal cases in which a statute of the United States or of this State has been held invalid *** shall lie directly to the Supreme Court as a matter of right." 134 Ill. 2d R. 603. Thus, we will assume jurisdiction over the present appeal only if the circuit Judge held the statute involved here, section 4-103(a)(6) of the Vehicle Code, "invalid" as required by Rule 603.

The phrase "held invalid," found in Rule 603, also appears in Supreme Court Rule 302(a) (134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a)). See 134 Ill. 2d R. 603, Committee Comments, at 395 (noting that the provision in Rule 603 for direct appeal to the supreme court when a statute is held invalid is "the same provision" that appears in Rule 302). Rule 302(a) applies in civil cases and provides, in pertinent part, that "[a]ppeals from final judgments of circuit courts shall be taken directly to the Supreme Court (1) in cases in which a statute of the United States or of this State has been held invalid." 134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a). Because the two rules are similar in scope, effect, and purpose, we believe that case law interpreting Rule 302(a) is also pertinent in this criminal appeal.

In Rehg v. Illinois Department of Revenue, 152 Ill. 2d 504 (1992), overruled in part on other grounds, Wilson v. Department of Revenue, 169 Ill. 2d 306 (1996), this court drew a distinction, for jurisdictional purposes, between a circuit court order that holds that a statute is incapable of any constitutional application and, hence, is invalid "on its face," and an order that holds that a statute is unconstitutional "as applied" in a particular case. Rehg held that, under Rule 302(a), this court has no jurisdiction over a circuit court order that merely holds a statute unconstitutional "as applied." Such an order, Rehg explained, "does not declare a statute unconstitutional; it simply declares that application of that statute would violate a particular defendant's constitutional rights. An appeal from such an order is properly brought in the appellate court pursuant to Rule 301 (134 Ill. 2d R. 301)." Rehg, 152 Ill. 2d at 508-09.

Later, in In re Marriage of Lappe, 176 Ill. 2d 414 (1997), this court held that, even in an "as applied" case, jurisdiction may be proper under Rule 302(a) if the circuit court "in effect" holds a statute unconstitutional with respect to an identifiable category or group of individuals. Lappe, 176 Ill. 2d at 420-22; see also Lumpkin v. Cassidy, 184 Ill. 2d 116 (1998). By determining that jurisdiction may be found in "as applied" rulings that effectively embrace more than an individual litigant, Lappe substantially qualified the holding of Rehg. After Lappe, the "as applied" rule of Rehg would apparently preclude direct review under Rule 302(a) only when the scope or effect of the circuit court order is truly limited to a single litigant.

In the present case, the trial Judge ruled that the statute challenged here, section 4-103(a)(6) of the Vehicle Code, was unconstitutional "as applied" to this defendant. Because the record in this case is relatively meager, and the Judge below made the ruling without much elaboration, there is some difficulty in identifying what, if any, category of persons would be affected by the ruling. There is no clear category of persons affected by this ruling, unless it consists of persons who falsely report vehicle thefts in retaliation against the supposed thieves. Thus, the facts of this case do not easily fall within the rationale of Lappe. Consequently, under Rehg, this court would not have jurisdiction to consider the State's appeal.

Lappe substantially undermined the logic and rationale of Regh, and we now conclude that Rehg, as modified by Lappe, no longer provides an effective means of determining this court's jurisdiction under Rule 302(a) or Rule 603. We see no principled reason to deny a direct appeal from the circuit court to this court when the "as applied" ruling affects a single defendant, as Rehg would require, but to allow a direct appeal when the "as applied" ruling affects only a small or indeterminate number of persons, as Lappe permits (see, e.g., Lumpkin, 184 Ill. 2d 116). Accordingly, to the extent that Rehg would preclude our assumption of jurisdiction in this case, that decision is overruled.


As a preliminary matter, we note the presumption of validity that attaches to legislation, including enactments that define offenses and prescribe penalties. People v. Dunigan, 165 Ill. 2d 235, 244 (1995). A party who is challenging the constitutionality of a statute has the burden of establishing its invalidity. People v. Burpo, 164 Ill. 2d 261, 264 (1995). Accordingly, "[i]t is a court's duty to construe a statute so as to affirm the statute's constitutionality and validity, if reasonably possible." People v. Shephard, 152 Ill. 2d 489, 499 (1992). In support of the trial court's ruling, the defendant argues that, under the facts of this case, imposing the penalty of a Class 2 felony for falsely reporting a vehicle theft would violate article I, section 11, of the Illinois Constitution. Commonly referred to as the ...

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