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People v. Izzo

February 16, 2001


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Harrison

9-November 2000.

Jerry Izzo, an 18-year-old high school student, was charged by complaint with violating section 21-6 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/21-6 (West 1998)), which prohibits the unauthorized possession or storage of weapons on public property. The charge was filed after Izzo was found carrying "a folding silver & black Smith & Wesson S.W.A.T. [Special Weapons Assault Team] knife with a blade in excess of 3 inches" while at school. Izzo moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to section 114-1 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (725 ILCS 5/114-1 (West 1998)) on the grounds that section 21-6 is unconstitutional. The circuit court of Du Page County granted that motion. The State took a direct appeal to our court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 302(a). We now reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Section 21-6 of the Criminal Code states:

"(a) Whoever possesses or stores any weapon enumerated in Section 33A-1 [of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/33A-1 (West 1998))] in any building or on land supported in whole or in part with public funds or in any building on such land without prior written permission from the chief security officer for such land or building commits a Class A misdemeanor.

(b) The chief security officer must grant any reasonable request for permission under paragraph (a)." 720 ILCS 5/21-6 (West 1998).

A S.W.A.T. knife of the type found in Izzo's possession is among the weapons enumerated in section 33A-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (720 ILCS 5/33A-1 (West 1998)). The public school where Izzo was carrying the knife is a building or land "supported in whole or in part with public funds" as those terms are used in section 21-6 (720 ILCS 5/21-6 (West 1998)). If Izzo wanted to possess or store the knife on school property, he was therefore required by the express terms of the statute to obtain advance written permission to do so.

Izzo did not seek permission to posses the knife at school, and no such permission was granted to him. Izzo nevertheless contends that he cannot be prosecuted for violation of the law because the law is unconstitutional. Specifically, Izzo asserts that the law is vague and indefinite in violation of the due process provisions of the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amends. V, XIV) and article I, section 2, of the Illinois Constitution of 1970 (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2) because it does not adequately define who qualifies as a "chief security officer." Second, he asserts that the law violates separation of powers principles under article II, section 1, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, §1) because it allows someone other than the State's Attorney to bring, modify or nol-pros criminal charges.

In addressing Izzo's due process argument, we begin with the familiar proposition that all statutes are presumed to be constitutional. People v. Bales, 108 Ill. 2d 182, 188 (1985). Although the language challenged in this case is similar to language employed in the Illinois Public Demonstrations Law struck down by our court in People v. Bossie, 108 Ill. 2d 236 (1985), the statute at issue here is different. Unlike the Illinois Public Demonstrations Law, section 21-6 of the Criminal Code is not alleged to trench on rights protected by the first amendment to the United States Constitution.

Where, as here, a statute does not affect first amendment rights, it will not be declared unconstitutionally vague on its face unless it is incapable of any valid application (People v. Wawczak, 109 Ill. 2d 244, 249 (1985)), that is, unless no set of circumstances exists under which the Act would be valid (In re C.E., 161 Ill. 2d 200, 210-11 (1994)). This is not such a case. Situations where one can readily identify a public facility's "chief security officer" are not difficult to imagine. County jails and this court's own building are two ready examples.

Because section 21-6 of the Criminal Code does not involve first amendment rights and because there are circumstances in which section 21-6 of the Criminal Code may be validly applied, the determination as to whether the statute is constitutionally infirm must be made in the factual context of this particular case. Russell v. Department of Natural Resources, 183 Ill. 2d 434, 442 (1998). If Izzo's own conduct clearly falls within the statute's proscriptions, prosecuting him for violating the law does not offend due process protections even though the statute might be vague as to other conduct in other circumstances. People v. Anderson, 148 Ill. 2d 15, 28 (1992). Izzo cannot escape the law's reach by arguing that the statute might be vague as applied to someone else. See People v. Jihan, 127 Ill. 2d 379, 385-86 (1989).

Where, as here, the challenged statute does not impinge on first amendment rights, due process is satisfied if: (1) the statute's prohibitions are sufficiently definite, when measured by common understanding and practices, to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair warning as to what conduct is prohibited, and (2) the statute provides sufficiently definite standards for law enforcement officers and triers of fact that its application does not depend merely on their private conceptions. People v. Falbe, 189 Ill. 2d 635, 639-40 (2000).

The second of these considerations is not at issue in this case. No claim is made that the absence of a more detailed definition of "chief security officer" has resulted in arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement and application by police officers, judges or juries. Izzo's due process challenge is premised solely on the notion that persons of ordinary intelligence cannot be sure in any given situation whom they must contact for authorization if they want to possess weapons on public property.

In support of his position, Izzo advances hypotheticals in which application of the law's requirements might be problematic. Our court has held, however, that a statute is not unconstitutionally vague merely because one can imagine hypothetical situations in which the meaning of some terms might be called into question. East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220 v. East St. Louis School District No. 189 Financial Oversight Panel, 178 Ill. 2d 399, 425 (1997). As we have previously indicated, the validity of the law must be judged in light of the particular facts at hand.

Nothing in the record here suggests that the scenarios proposed by defendant are present in the case now before us. Unlike the situation in People v. Bossie, 108 Ill. 2d 236 (1985), this case does not involve multiple jurisdictions or multiple layers of governmental authority. The events giving rise to Izzo's prosecution occurred ...

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