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People v. Jones

November 18, 1999

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT, V. RONNIE E. JONES, JR., APPELLEE.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Bilandic

-Agenda 17-September 1999.

The defendant, Ronnie E. Jones, Jr., was convicted under a statute that restricts the volume at which a car stereo system may be played on a public street, but exempts vehicles engaged in advertising from this restriction. The issue presented in this appeal is whether this statute is consistent with the first amendment to the United States Constitution. We hold that the statute is a content-based restriction on free expression which violates the first amendment.

FACTS

In the early morning hours of October 17, 1996, the defendant was operating his automobile on a public highway. Sergeant Barry Thomas of the Kankakee County sheriff's police stopped the defendant because of the excessive noise emitting from the defendant's car radio. The defendant refused to comply with Officer Thomas' request to see the defendant's driver's license and insurance card. The officer reached through the defendant's car window to unlock the defendant's door. When a backup patrol car arrived, the defendant accelerated suddenly and drove off with Sergeant Thomas' arm still inside the car. Sergeant Thomas continued to hang on to the car as the defendant traveled 1½ miles, and reached speeds in excess of 70 miles per hour, before finally coming to a stop. Sergeant Thomas sustained bruises on his arm.

The defendant was charged in the circuit court of Kankakee County with aggravated battery of a police officer. The defendant was also charged with citations for various traffic offenses, including illegal operation of a sound amplification system (625 ILCS 5/12-611 (West 1996)). Before trial, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the illegal sound amplification charge on the ground that it was unconstitutional. The circuit court denied the motion to dismiss.

Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of all charges. The defendant was sentenced to five years' incarceration for aggravated battery and was assessed court costs on all other convictions.

The defendant appealed to the appellate court, challenging his conviction for illegal sound amplification on the ground that the statute was unconstitutional, and challenging the sentences imposed on the other convictions. The appellate court, with one Justice Dissenting, reversed the defendant's conviction for illegal sound amplification. 299 Ill. App. 3d 739. The appellate court majority held that the sound amplification statute violated the first amendment by regulating speech on the basis of content without a compelling state interest. The appellate court rejected the defendant's remaining contentions.

We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal as a matter of right (134 Ill. 2d R. 317) from the judgment of the appellate court holding the sound amplification statute unconstitutional. Only the defendant's conviction for illegal sound amplification is before this court. We now affirm the appellate court.

ANALYSIS

We are asked to consider the constitutionality of section 12-611 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/12-611 (West 1996)) (hereinafter, the sound amplification statute). The sound amplification statute provides, in its entirety, as follows:

"No driver of any motor vehicle within this State shall operate or permit operation of any sound amplification system which can be heard outside the vehicle from 75 or more feet when the vehicle is being operated upon a highway, unless such system is being operated to request assistance or warn of a hazardous situation.

This Section does not apply to authorized emergency vehicles or vehicles engaged in advertising.

Any violation of the provisions of this Section shall be a petty offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $50." (Emphasis added.) 625 ILCS 5/12-611 (West 1996).

The defendant urges that we affirm the appellate court's holding that this statute is a content-based restriction on free speech that violates the first amendment. In the alternative, the defendant contends that this statute should be struck down as ...


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