February 17, 2000
THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
JOHNNIE WRIGHT, APPELLANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McMORROW
Agenda 11-November 1999.
Defendant, Johnnie Wright, was the owner of J&J Scrap Auto Wrecking Company, an auto parts recycling business. On January 25, 1996, auditors from the Secretary of State's office arrived at defendant's business, reviewed documents in his business office, and took an inventory of the vehicles in the lot surrounding the office. As a result of this audit, defendant was placed under arrest and charged with two counts of possession of a stolen motor vehicle (see 625 ILCS 5/4-103(a)(1) (West 1996)), 27 counts of failure to keep records (see 625 ILCS 5/5-401.2(a), (i) (West 1996)), and 25 counts of possession of title without complete assignment (see 625 ILCS 5/4-104(a)(2) (West 1996)).
Following a bench trial, the circuit court of Cook County found defendant not guilty of the possession of a stolen motor vehicle charges and not guilty of two of the counts of failure to keep records. The circuit court found defendant guilty of the remaining charges of failure to keep records and possession of title without complete assignment.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed defendant's convictions because it found that the circuit court had failed to consider the mental state required to establish the offenses of failure to keep records and possession of title without complete assignment. The appellate court ordered the cause remanded for a limited nonevidentiary hearing for the circuit court to apply the appropriate mental state to the existing record. 302 Ill. App. 3d 128. We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).
We hold that defendant's convictions for possession of title without complete assignment must be reversed because the evidence at trial was insufficient to establish the mental state required for a violation of section 4-104(a)(2). With respect to defendant's convictions for failure to keep records, we find that the circuit court applied the mental state necessary to establish a violation of section 5-401.2 and affirm his convictions under that provision of the Vehicle Code.
At defendant's trial, Russell Hoekstra, an auditor for the Special Audit Team of the Secretary of State's office, testified that, on January 25, 1996, he and two other auditors conducted an audit at J&J Scrap Auto Wrecking Company (J&J) in Blue Island, Illinois. When the auditors arrived at the J&J office at about 9 a.m., they spoke to defendant, who identified himself as the owner of the business. Hoekstra informed defendant that they were there to conduct an inspection of his business. He asked defendant for his license, his police book, and any other records. Defendant provided Hoekstra with his police book. He told Hoekstra that he could not find the titles for his vehicles but that his secretary would be able to find them when she returned from an errand. Defendant also gave Hoekstra a 1995 license, which listed him as the only owner of J&J. When asked about his 1996 license, defendant stated that he had applied for it but that he had not received it or could not find it.
Hoekstra then informed defendant that an inventory would be taken of all of the vehicles in the J&J lot and that the vehicles would be matched to the paperwork defendant provided. According to Hoekstra, the south and north boundaries of the J&J lot were each marked by a row of truck trailers. These boundaries were approximately 225 feet apart. The office was near the front of the lot and the rear of the lot was marked by railroad tracks about 600 or 700 feet behind the office. Hoekstra acknowledged that defendant's 1995 license indicated that the lot size was only 50 feet by 250 feet, but he stated that defendant had told him that the trailers were the north boundary of the J&J lot. An inspection by the Secretary of State's office and defendant's 1996 license described the property size as four acres.
During the course of their inventory and inspection of defendant's records, the auditors discovered several irregularities. Hoekstra testified that they learned that two of the vehicles included in their inventory had been reported stolen. One of these vehicles, a 1987 blue Ford Taurus station wagon, was located approximately 150 yards behind the J&J office and 20 feet from the trailers marking the south boundary of the lot. The other car, a white 1987 Ford Escort, was located approximately 20 yards behind and 40 to 50 feet north of the Taurus.
Hoekstra asked defendant whether all of the vehicles in the J&J lot were his. Defendant responded that one car, his employee's car, did not belong to him. According to Hoekstra, defendant did not tell him that any of the vehicles in his lot belonged to James Crumb. When Hoekstra specifically inquired about the stolen vehicles, defendant told Hoekstra that a towing company had brought the Taurus and the Escort to the lot. Defendant gave Hoekstra a name of the towing company, but Hoekstra did not try to contact the company. Hoekstra did not remember defendant calling someone named Jim from Night and Day Towing.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., defendant's secretary gave Hoekstra 217 vehicle titles. After comparing the titles to the vehicles in the J&J lot, Hoekstra found that only 18 of the titles matched the 101 vehicles in the lot. He asked defendant whether he had any documentation for the other vehicles. Defendant responded that he did not. The assignment portion of 173 of the 217 titles Hoekstra examined was not completed. In addition, the auditors observed that defendant's police book failed to indicate the disposition of 189 vehicles. That is, there were 290 entries in the book showing the acquisition but no disposition of a vehicle, yet there were only 101 vehicles in the J&J lot. In addition, defendant did not have a parts book to record the parts that he sold.
According to Hoekstra, if defendant scrapped or crushed a car, he was required to record this disposition in his police book. Hoekstra testified that defendant's police book indicated that a few of the vehicles he had acquired had been scrapped or crushed. Defendant, did not, however, have documents, such as a uniform invoice or junk certificate, showing that he had disposed of the vehicles this way.
Based on the discovery of the stolen vehicles on the J&J lot, Hoekstra contacted the Illinois State Police. During the afternoon of January 25, 1996, Special Agent Lemming, Sergeant Jeffrey Blair, and other Illinois State Police officers arrived with a warrant to search defendant's business. Defendant told the officers that the Taurus had been in the J&J lot since December 1995 and the Escort had been in the lot for about six months. Like Hoekstra, Blair testified that the north and south boundaries of the J&J lot were each marked by a row of truck trailers. According to Blair, the boundaries were approximately 100 feet apart.
Lemming testified that, when he arrived at J&J, he spoke to Hoekstra, and Hoekstra gave him the police book and 199 of the titles he had received from defendant's secretary. Lemming and the other State Police officers searched the J&J office. They found defendant's 1996 license application, which had not been sent to the Secretary of State's office.
Lemming also spoke to defendant. When Lemming informed defendant that two stolen vehicles had been found in the J&J lot, defendant replied that a man named Jim from Night and Day Towing had towed both vehicles into the lot. Defendant called Jim from the office and handed the receiver to Lemming, but Lemming heard no one on the line. Lemming recalled seeing a card for Night and Day Towing with a telephone number and the name Jim on it. Several days later Lemming attempted to get the telephone number for Night and Day Towing. The telephone company had no listing for this business, and Lemming was unsuccessful in his attempt to get the number from one of defendant's employees.
Lemming arrested defendant late in the day on January 25, 1996. Following the arrest, Lemming questioned defendant further. Defendant explained his auto recycling business to Lemming. He stated that he places advertisements in the Chicago Sun-Times offering to buy junk vehicles from people. Defendant uses his tow truck to tow these vehicles to the J&J lot. Defendant told Lemming that he has a partner named James Crumb but that defendant handled the day-to-day operations of the business, and defendant is the only J&J employee who purchased vehicles and received titles for J&J. According to Lemming, defendant also said that he sold auto parts from the J&J lot.
Defendant told Lemming that he had heard that the Escort and the Taurus were in his yard, but he had only seen the Escort. Defendant stated that he did not know these cars were stolen. Defendant said that he also knew that these cars were not in his police book, but this was because his secretary had probably forgotten to enter them into the book. With respect to the number of titles found in his office, defendant stated that, if he had a title without a vehicle, it meant that he had sent the vehicle to the "shredder."
According to Lemming, in order for title to a vehicle to be properly transferred, the seller must sign the back of his or her title, then the space for the buyer's name and address must be completed. Lemming testified that, with respect to nine of the vehicle titles recovered from defendant's office, there had been no assignment on the back of the titles to defendant or J&J. On the back of three of these titles, the spaces for assignment had been completed, but the assignment was to an entity or individual other than J&J or defendant. The spaces for assignment on the back of the other six titles were blank. None of these nine vehicles were in the J&J lot. With respect to 16 of the other vehicle titles found in defendant's office, some of the sellers of the vehicles had signed the back of the titles, but the spaces for assignment to the buyer were incomplete. On the back of one of the16 titles, J&J was listed as the buyer, but there was no address for J&J or date of assignment. On the remaining 15, neither J&J nor defendant were listed as a buyer. None of these 25 titles had been entered into defendant's police book.
Detective Paul Bernatek testified that in October 1988, he had a conversation with defendant during which he told defendant that, when defendant received the title for a vehicle, he was required to have the seller write his or her name and address on the title, after which defendant was to sign it, date it, and write the odometer reading on the title. He also told defendant that auto parts recyclers were required to maintain a book with records of their acquisitions of vehicles, including the identity of the seller, the date, the year, the make and the body style. Bernatek also informed defendant that, when a recycler disposed of a vehicle, he was required to list the date of disposition and the destination of the vehicle. In January 1989, Bernatek had another conversation with defendant, during which he again informed defendant of these record-keeping requirements for auto parts recyclers. Bernatek acknowledged that these conversations were not recorded in the reports he prepared.
Defendant and his employee, Jesse Dawkins, presented a completely different version of the events of January 25, 1996. In addition, their description of the dimensions of the J&J lot differed significantly from that of the State's witnesses.
According to Dawkins, when the auditors arrived at 9 a.m., Dawkins told them that only defendant's secretary was in the office, and defendant was not there. Defendant and Dawkins testified that defendant did not arrive at the J&J lot until 11 or 11:30 a.m. on January 25, 1996. At that time, Hoekstra told defendant that they were there to investigate his lot but did not ask for his police book. Hoekstra also did not ask defendant for any vehicle titles, and defendant did not give him any titles or records.
As the auditors performed their inventory, defendant and Dawkins saw them record the serial numbers of cars in the J&J lot, as well as in the two lots north of defendant's. These two lots were owned by James Crumb and Charles Dixon, who, like defendant, were in the auto wrecking business. Although defendant told Hoekstra that the vehicles on those lots were not his, Hoekstra told him that the vehicles would be considered his because he was the only one with a license.
Dawkins and defendant testified that the south boundary of the J&J lot is marked by truck trailers, but there were no trailers along the north boundary of the lot. According to defendant, the dimensions of the J&J lot were 51½ feet by 887 feet. There was a private residence on the front half of the property. The property extended behind the office to the railroad tracks.
Defendant testified that he began operating J&J in January 1995. Prior to that time, the J&J lot was used as an auto wrecking yard by Dixon and Crumb. According to defendant, he and Crumb were partners, and the purpose of their partnership was to split rent. He acknowledged, however, that the 1995 license for J&J listed only defendant as the proprietor of J&J. Defendant and Dixon had a bad relationship and did not associate at all.
According to defendant, when he began operating J&J, vehicle titles belonging to Dixon and Crumb remained in the office in a file cabinet. Defendant never looked in the file cabinet and, after January 1995, Crumb and Dixon continued to use the cabinet. Defendant and Crumb also shared the desk in the office and the police book. Defendant had two drawers in the desk, and Crumb had two drawers in the desk. Defendant stated that, when he purchased a vehicle, he would place the title for the vehicle on the desk in his office, and his secretary would enter it into the police book. Crumb was supposed to enter his own vehicles into the police book, and defendant knew that Crumb had been doing so with respect to some of the vehicles he purchased. Under their partnership arrangement, defendant was the only one who could purchase a car and accept a title on behalf of J&J. Likewise, Crumb bought vehicles on his own, and defendant had no control over the vehicles Crumb purchased. With respect to the vehicles listed in the police book, defendant said that some of them had been taken to a scrap processor and others were in the J&J lot. He did not know whether any of the vehicles that the police book indicated had been taken to a scrap processor were his vehicles.
Defendant and Dawkins testified that not all of the titles in the office belonged to defendant. Defendant did not know how many of his titles were in the office, but he had 50 or 60 in the desk drawer that belonged to him. As the police searched his office, defendant saw them removing items from the file cabinet. When he told the police that the cabinet was not his, the police responded that everything in the cabinet was considered his. He had never seen the 25 titles on which the possession of title without complete assignment charges were based. According to defendant, only the titles with his name on them belonged to him; the titles assigned to J&J were Crumb's.
Similarly, Dawkins and defendant testified that not all of the cars on the J&J lot belonged to defendant. Defendant stated that, at the time of the audit, he had only seven or eight cars and three trucks. The other vehicles on his lot belonged to Crumb, who had failed to move these cars to his own lot.
Defendant testified the he told Lemming that he did not know anything about the Escort and the Taurus, except that they had been towed into the area by Jim Stroud from Night and Day towing. Dawkins testified that he had seen Jim tow cars into the J&J lot before, but did not see him tow the Escort and the Taurus. Defendant testified that Dawkins had told him that Jim had towed these cars to the J&J lot. Defendant also stated that Jim was planning to sell the Taurus to him.
Dawkins and defendant testified that, while the State Police were in the J&J office, defendant placed a call to Jim of Night and Day towing and broadcast the call on the speaker telephone in the office. Jim identified himself on the telephone, and defendant asked him to bring the paperwork for the cars to J&J. When the police attempted to talk to Jim, he ended the call. According to defendant, he gave Lemming a card from Night and Day.
Dawkins testified that the Escort was a few feet on one side or the other of the property line between defendant's lot and the lot north of defendant's. Defendant testified that he told Lemming that the Escort was on Dixon's lot. At one point he testified that he did not know where the Taurus was because he never saw it. He later testified, however, that the Taurus was on his property.
Defendant did not remember whether Detective Bernatek informed him in 1989 about the necessity of completing the assignments on the back of titles or about the record keeping requirements. Defendant denied that Bernatek told him that, as an auto parts recycler, he had to keep records of the acquisition and disposition of vehicles.
In rebuttal, the State offered two certified copies of conviction. These documents showed that defendant had been convicted in March 1990 of possession of title with incomplete assignment. In addition, he was convicted in February 1990 of possession of a stolen motor vehicle and possession of a vehicle with its identification number removed.
At the conclusion of the presentation of this evidence, the circuit court found defendant not guilty of the charges of possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The court stated that there was conflicting testimony as to whether the Escort was on defendant's lot. With respect to possession of the Taurus, the court also found defendant not guilty because it found defendant's explanation that he did not see this car credible. The court also found defendant not guilty of the charges of failure to keep records related to these two vehicles. The circuit court found defendant guilty of the other charges of failure to keep records and possession of title with incomplete assignment. The circuit court sentenced defendant to three years' imprisonment based on the convictions for failure to keep records and one year of imprisonment for possession of titles with incomplete assignment, to run concurrently.
The appellate court reversed defendant's convictions. 302 Ill. App. 3d 128. In that court, defendant argued that (1) he was denied the effective assistance of counsel by his counsel's failure to file a motion to suppress; (2) that the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt of failure to keep records; and (3) that his convictions for possession of titles without complete assignment must be overturned because the circuit court failed to find that he acted with the mental state required for that offense. The appellate court rejected defendant's ineffective assistance of counsel argument. 302 Ill. App. 3d at 132-35. The court reversed defendant's convictions for failure to keep records and possession of title without complete assignment, however, because it agreed with defendant that the circuit court had failed to find that defendant possessed the mental state necessary for these offenses. 302 Ill. App. 3d at 135-40.
The appellate court noted that, in People v. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d 397 (1992), this court held that a finding of knowledge plus criminal intent is required for a defendant to be found guilty of possession of title without complete assignment under section 4-104(a)(2) of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/4-104(a)(2) (West 1996)). After reviewing the circuit court's comments at defendant's trial, the appellate court concluded that the circuit court had based its finding of guilt of this offense "simply on the possession of the open titles" and had made no finding that defendant had the requisite mental state. Accordingly, the appellate court decided that defendant's convictions for possession of title without complete assignment should be reversed. The appellate court chose not to remand the cause for new trial, however. According to the appellate court, no evidentiary hearing was necessary because defense counsel had demonstrated an awareness of the Tolliver decision. The appellate court, therefore, remanded the cause for the circuit court to review the existing record in light of the Tolliver decision. 302 Ill. App. 3d at 137-38.
For the same reason, the appellate court reversed defendant's convictions for failure to keep records. It rejected defendant's argument that the circuit court's finding of guilt with respect to these offenses was inconsistent with its decision to acquit defendant on other charges. 302 Ill. App. 3d at 140. However, the appellate court determined that the circuit court had failed to find the existence of the mental state required for the offense of failure to keep records. Based on Tolliver and other decisions discussing the mental state required for violations of other sections of the Vehicle Code, the appellate court concluded that knowledge with criminal purpose is an element of a violation of section 5-401.2 of the Vehicle Code. The appellate court held that, on remand, the circuit court should also reconsider its findings with respect to the charge of failure to keep records in light of Tolliver. 302 Ill. App. at 139-40.
Defendant argues that the appellate court erred in ordering a limited nonevidentiary hearing rather than a new trial after reversing his convictions. According to defendant, a new trial is required when a defendant is tried under an incorrect theory of law. He asserts that, by failing to require the State to prove that he acted with knowledge plus criminal purpose, the circuit court tried him under an incorrect theory of law. Defendant contends that the limited hearing ordered by the appellate court is unfair because it would require the circuit court to perform a new credibility assessment "on a cold record and distant memory" and because the circuit court's error may have affected the defense strategy.
The State has filed a request for cross-relief, in which it contends that the appellate court should have affirmed defendant's convictions because (1) the circuit court's comments indicate that it found defendant possessed the necessary mental states under sections 4-104(a)(2) and 5-401.2 of the Vehicle Code and, (2) even if the circuit court failed to apply the correct mental state, the evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that he violated these provisions. In the alternative, the State argues that a limited hearing rather than a new trial was the appropriate relief for the circuit court's application of an incorrect mental state at defendant's trial.
Before considering the issues raised by defendant's appeal, it is necessary to address the State's argument that defendant's convictions should be affirmed, regardless of any erroneous application of the necessary mental state by the circuit court. If the appellate court erred in reversing defendant's convictions, we need not decide the propriety of its decision to remand his case for a limited nonevidentiary hearing.
The State argues that, even if the circuit court erred by failing to find the existence of the mental state required to establish violations of section 4-104(a)(2) and 5-401.2, we should affirm defendant's convictions because the evidence established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and a reviewing court may affirm a circuit court on any basis in the record, even if the circuit court did not rely on those grounds. See People v. Caballero, 179 Ill. 2d 205, 211 (1997). Defendant replies that we cannot affirm his convictions because there was insufficient evidence at trial of the mental states required under sections 4-104(a)(2) and 5-401.2.
Whether the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of violating sections 4-104(a)(2) and 5-401.2 depends on the elements of the offenses under those provisions. Section 4-104 states in pertinent part:
"(a) It is a violation of this Chapter for:
2. A person to possess any manufacturers certificate of origin, salvage certificate, junking certificate, certificate of title, display certificate without complete assignment[.]
1. A person convicted of a violation of subsection 1 or 2 of paragraph (a) of this Section is guilty of a Class 4 felony." 625 ILCS 5/4-104 (West 1996).
Although the statutory provision describing the offense of possession of title without complete assignment contains no mental state, this court has supplied a mental state in previous cases involving this statute. In People v. Gean, 143 Ill. 2d 281 (1991), this court held that the mental state of knowledge is an element of offenses under section 4-104. In Gean, the defendant had argued that section 4-104 violated due process protections because it created a felony offense with no mental state. This court rejected the defendant's constitutional challenge. The court explained that, under section 4-9 of the Criminal Code of 1961, a mental state requirement should be implied unless it is clear that the legislature intended an absolute liability offense. Gean, 143 Ill. 2d at 285-86. This court supplied a mental state for violations of sections 4-104(a)(1) and 4-104(a)(2) because there was no indication that the legislature intended absolute liability under these provisions. The court found that "knowledge" was the appropriate mental state. Thus, this court held that, to prove a violation of section 4-104(a)(2), the State was required to show that a defendant possessed a certificate of title "knowing that he did not have authority or knowing it was without complete assignment." Gean, 143 Ill. 2d at 287-89.
In People v. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d 397 (1992), this court modified the holding in Gean with respect to the mental state requirement under section 4-104(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code. The defendant in Tolliver had filed a motion to dismiss the charge against him on the basis that section 4-104(a)(2) is unconstitutional. The circuit court denied his motion and found him guilty of violating this provision. The appellate court reversed after concluding that section 4-104(a)(2) was unconstitutional because it required no mental state and would punish innocent behavior. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 399.
This court upheld the constitutionality of section 4-104(a)(2). The Tolliver court observed that, under Gean, the State was required to prove knowledge as an element of a violation of section 4-104(a)(2). It found, however, that, under Gean, section 4-104(a)(2) could be used to punish innocent behavior. For example, if a husband and wife jointly owned a car, the wife signed the title as a seller, and the husband took the title to the buyer or dealer, the husband would be considered to have knowingly possessed an incomplete title. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 400-02. According to the Tolliver court, under this and other scenarios, offenders with no criminal intent could be found guilty of a felony even though they lacked any criminal intent. The court stated, "[s]uch innocent but knowing conduct, which is wholly devoid of criminal or devious intent, should not render a person guilty of a felony." Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 402. Therefore, the Tolliver court decided that the Gean holding should be expanded such that, to establish a violation of section 4-104(a)(2), the State must prove "criminal knowledge or knowledge with an intent to defraud or commit a crime." Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 400-01. This court also described the mental state requirement under section 4-104(a)(2) as "knowledge plus criminal purpose." Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 403. With this modification, the Tolliver court found section 4-104(a)(2) constitutional. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 403. See also People v. Johns, 153 Ill. 2d 436, 446 (1992) (reiterating the Tolliver holding that the required mental state for section 4-104(a)(2) is criminal knowledge or criminal purpose); but see Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 403-06 (Freeman, J., concurring, joined by Miller, C.J.) (finding the majority's modification of the knowledge requirement unnecessary).
An examination of the evidence presented at trial, in light of the necessary elements of an offense under section 4-104(a)(2), leads us to the conclusion that there was insufficient evidence presented at trial to find defendant guilty of possession of title with incomplete assignment.
In reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence to support a conviction, the proper inquiry is " `whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.' " (Emphasis omitted.) People v. Howery, 178 Ill. 2d 1, 38 (1997), quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318-19, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560, 573, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2788-89 (1979). After carefully considering the evidence presented at defendant's trial in the light most favorable to the State, we cannot conclude that a rational trier of fact could have found that there was a criminal purpose associated with defendant's possession of title without complete assignment.
Our conclusion is supported by Tolliver. In Tolliver, this court reversed the defendant's conviction under section 4-104(a)(2) after finding no evidence of criminal purpose. Like the defendant in the case before us, the Tolliver defendant was charged under section 4-104(a)(2) with possession of title without complete assignment. The charge resulted from defendant's sale of a vehicle to Thomas Murphy. Murphy noticed that the title to the vehicle that he had received from defendant was signed by an individual named David Hayes rather than defendant. When Murphy asked defendant to sign the title, defendant told him to just sign it himself. Murphy contacted the Secretary of State's office, and defendant was subsequently charged with possession of title without complete assignment. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 399.
The circuit court found defendant guilty of violating section 4-104(a)(2) because, in the court's view, "there was no valid lawful reason for not completing the title and the only reason an individual would not complete it was to avoid sales tax." Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 399. This court reversed the Tolliver defendant's conviction, however, because we concluded that there was no evidence that the defendant had a criminal purpose and no allegations that he had stolen a car or attempted to perpetrate a fraud. Tolliver, 147 Ill. 2d at 403.
Likewise, in this case, there was no evidence that defendant possessed title without complete assignment for a criminal purpose. As in Tolliver, no facts were presented that demonstrated that defendant stole any of the vehicles for which he possessed an incomplete title, or that he was using these titles to perpetrate a fraud. In fact, defendant was acquitted of the charges that he possessed stolen vehicles.
The State fails to identify any other type of criminal activity that might have motivated defendant's possession of incomplete titles. The State merely asserts that some general criminal purpose may be inferred from the evidence presented at trial. In support of this argument, the State observes that the circuit court did not give credence to defendant's argument that some of the titles and vehicles examined by the auditors were owned by Crumb. The rejection of this defense, however, does not suffice as proof of criminal purpose. The State also argues that a criminal purpose may be inferred from defendant's experience as an auto parts recycler and his awareness of the requirements of section 4-104(a)(2). While these facts indicate that defendant's possession of title without complete assignment was knowing, they do not show that defendant acted with a criminal purpose. For similar reasons, we disagree with the State's assertion that the number of titles defendant possessed without complete assignment and the number of titles he possessed without cars on his lot is circumstantial evidence of a criminal purpose. While the number of irregularities in defendant's record-keeping may prove his knowledge of a violation, it does not prove the reason for the violation. To conclude that these violations were the result of a criminal scheme rather than poor or disorganized record-keeping by defendant would be pure speculation. Given the insufficient evidence of a criminal purpose behind defendant's possession of title without complete assignment, we hold, as we did in Tolliver, that defendant's convictions under section 4-104(a)(2) must be reversed. See also People v. DePalma, 256 Ill. App. 3d 206, 214 (1994) (finding insufficient evidence of criminal purpose); People v. Jones, 227 Ill. App. 3d 917, 919-20 (1992) (same).
Next, we consider the appellate court's decision to reverse defendant's convictions for failure to keep records in violation of section 5-401.2 of the Vehicle Code. Section 5-401.2 requires individuals licensed as auto parts recyclers to maintain records relating to the acquisition and disposition of vehicle and parts for three years at their place of business. Among the records auto parts recyclers must maintain are records of the year, make, and model of a part or vehicle; the date of acquisition of a part or vehicle; the name and address of the person from whom the part or vehicle was acquired; the date of disposition of the part or vehicle; the name and address of the person with whom the part or vehicle was disposed; and the number of the uniform invoice reflecting the disposition of the part or vehicle, if applicable. 625 ILCS 5/5-401.2(a) (West 1996).
In reversing defendant's convictions under section 5-401.2, the appellate court held, sua sponte, that the mental state prescribed in Tolliver for violations of section 4-104(a)(2) also applies to the offense of failure to keep records under section 5-401.2. Based on the circuit court's comments at the conclusion of defendant's trial, the appellate court found that the circuit court had failed to find the existence of this mental state. It, therefore, reversed defendant's convictions under section 5-401.2 and remanded the cause for the circuit court to apply the proper mental state in assessing the evidence that had been presented at defendant's trial.
We hold that the appellate court erred in applying the Tolliver mental state to violations of section 5-401.2. We are aware that the State does not challenge this aspect of the appellate court holding. Our resolution of the issues presented by the instant case, however, requires us to apply the mental state necessary under section 5-401.2. Our responsibility to achieve a just result and maintain a uniform body of precedent, therefore, requires us to correct the appellate court's error despite the State's failure to raise this issue. See People v. Hamilton, 179 Ill. 2d 319, 323 (1997).
In Tolliver, the statute at issue, section 4-104(a)(2), provided no mental state. After determining that the legislature did not intend to create an absolute liability offense, therefore, this court was free to choose an appropriate mental state, and to imply this mental state as an element of the statute. See 720 ILCS 5/4-9 (West 1996); People v. Anderson, 148 Ill. 2d 15, 23-24 (1992).
Unlike section 4-104, section 5-401.2 does not lack a mental state element. According to subsection (i) of section 5-401.2,
"(i) Any person who knowingly fails to keep the records required by this Section or who knowingly violates this Section shall be guilty of a Class 2 felony. Each violation shall constitute a separate and distinct offense and a separate count may be brought in the same indictment or information for each vehicle or each essential part of a vehicle for which a record was not kept as required by this Section." 625 ILCS 5/5-401.2(i) (West 1996).
The appellate court ignored the mental state provided by the legislature for violations of section 5-401.2 and instead applied the mental state required by the Tolliver court for violations of section 4-104(a)(2). We find that it was inappropriate for the appellate court to do so.
When a statute is unambiguous, it must be enforced as enacted, and a court may not depart from its plain language by reading into it exceptions, limitations, or conditions not expressed by the legislature. People v. Woodard, 175 Ill. 2d 435, 443 (1997). The responsibility for the wisdom or justice of legislation rests with the legislature, and courts may not rewrite statutes to make them consistent with the court's idea of orderliness and public policy. Kozak v. Retirement Board of the Firemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund, 95 Ill. 2d 211, 220 (1983).
Section 5-401.2 unambiguously provides that the mental state element of offenses under that section is knowledge. Although a statute that imposes a criminal penalty without a mental state requirement raises due process concerns because it has the potential of punishing innocent conduct (see In re K.C., 186 Ill. 2d 542, 551 (1999)), this constitutional problem may be avoided by the inclusion of a mental state, such as knowledge, as an element of the offense (see, e.g., People v. Parker, 277 Ill. App. 3d 585, 590 (1996)). Accordingly, we find that the appellate court erred in holding that the mental state set forth in Tolliver, knowledge plus criminal purpose, rather than the mental state set forth in section 5-401.2(i), knowledge, applies to violations of section 5-401.2.
In addition, contrary to the appellate court, we conclude that the circuit court found that defendant possessed the mental state required to establish the offense of failure to keep records under section 5-401.2. At a bench trial, the circuit court is presumed to know the law and to apply it properly. People v. Kluxdal, 225 Ill. App. 3d 217, 223 (1991); People v. Virella, 256 Ill. App. 3d 635, 638 (1993). This presumption may be rebutted, however, by an affirmative showing to the contrary by the record. See, e.g., People v. Golden, 244 Ill. App. 3d 908, 916 (1993).
The record in this case does not rebut a presumption that the circuit court applied the proper mental state for violations of section 5-401.2. Instead, it is clear from the circuit court's comments that the court required the State to show that defendant knowingly failed to keep the records required by section 5-401.2. For example, during the State's case in chief, the circuit court remarked, "[t]he State has to prove that he knowingly kept records." Similarly, in announcing its decision that defendant was guilty of failure to keep records, the circuit court stated:
"[P]eople involved in this business are more conscious of [the requirements of these statutes], of course, do have knowledge of it, know how to handle it.
[I] [f]ind beyond a reasonable doubt that *** there is evidence that he had vehicles that were not entered in his book. ***
[Tolliver] was the defense - defendant had one title, that would be a - maybe a reasonable defense, logical one that would at lease raise a doubt to prevent the state from proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But when the defendant is involved in this business and has been for a while, and he has a hundred a [sic] 199 of these titles, and he's got none of these cars in his book, he's got a book that shows him having 200 some cars come into his lot, none of them leave, only 7 of them disposed of or 14 of them, obviously he's not following the laws required for somebody in his business."
These comments illustrate that the circuit court required the State to show that defendant knowingly failed to keep records relating to his vehicles. In addition, the circuit court's comments demonstrate that it found that, although defendant was aware of the record-keeping requirements, he failed to follow them. Accordingly, we conclude that the circuit court found the existence of the mental state required as an element of an offense under section 5-401.2(a).
We also find that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the circuit court's conclusion that defendant knowingly failed to keep records, as required by section 5-401.2(a). Defendant's knowledge of the record-keeping requirements contained in this provision was indicated by Officer Bernatek's testimony that he told defendant of the requirement that auto parts recyclers keep a book recording the acquisition and disposition of their vehicles. Evidence that defendant kept such a book and had been in the auto parts recycling business for several years also supported a conclusion that he was aware of these record-keeping requirements. Other evidence established that defendant did not adhere to these requirements. For example, the 25 vehicles referenced in his indictments were not recorded in his police book. In addition, although his police book showed that he had acquired 290 vehicles, he only had 101 vehicles in his lot. Accordingly, we hold that defendant's conviction for failure to keep records under section 5-401.2 should be affirmed.
We need not address the parties' arguments regarding the propriety of the appellate court's decision to remand the cause for a limited nonevidentiary hearing. No remand is necessary for the circuit court to reevaluate the evidence of defendant's possession of title without complete assignment in light of Tolliver because, as stated, the evidence is insufficient to permit a conclusion that defendant acted with the Tolliver mental state. Our holding that the circuit court found the existence of the mental state applicable to the offense of failure to keep records and that the evidence supported defendant's convictions for violating section 5-401.2 also obviates the need for a remand. Accordingly, we need not decide whether the appellate court should have ordered a new trial rather than a limited hearing.
For these reasons, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court, and we reverse defendant's convictions for possession of title without complete assignment under section 4-104(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code and affirm his convictions and sentence for failure to keep records in violation of section 5-401.2(a).
Appellate court judgment reversed; circuit court judgment affirmed in part and reversed in part.
JUSTICE FREEMAN, specially concurring:
I agree with the majority's disposition of this case. I write separately merely to note that defendant's prior convictions could have been offered as substantive evidence of his intent on the charges of possession of title without complete assignment. See People v. Oaks, 169 Ill. 2d 409, 454 (1996) ("[e]vidence of other crimes is admissible if it tends to prove modus operandi, design, motive or knowledge"). However, the record reveals that at trial the State offered defendant's prior convictions only for impeachment purposes, not as direct evidence of guilt. Accordingly, in this case defendant's prior convictions cannot be considered as direct evidence of intent. See People v. Hope, 184 Ill. 2d 39, 44 (1998) (arguments not raised by State at trial may not be raised on appeal); People v. Adams, 131 Ill. 2d 387, 395 (1989) (refusing to allow State, as appellee, to argue a theory on appeal for admissibility of evidence which was not raised in trial court). It is thus unnecessary to speculate whether the prior convictions could have constituted sufficient evidence of intent to uphold defendant's convictions for possession of title without complete assignment in the instant case.