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People v. O'Brien

July 26, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT
v.
LEWIS O'BRIEN, APPELLEE



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

UNPUBLISHED

Docket No. 90390-Agenda 16-May 2001.

The issue presented in this appeal is whether section 3-707 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/3-707 (West 1998)), which prohibits the operation of an uninsured motor vehicle, is an absolute liability offense. We hold that it is.

BACKGROUND

Defendant, Lewis O'Brien, was charged by traffic citation with violating section 3-707 of the Illinois Vehicle Code (the Code). Section 3-707 provides, in relevant part:

"No person shall operate a motor vehicle unless the motor vehicle is covered by a liability insurance policy in accordance with Section 7-601 of this Code.

Any person who fails to comply with a request by a law enforcement officer for display of evidence of insurance, as required under Section 7-602 of this Code, shall be deemed to be operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

Any operator of a motor vehicle subject to registration under this Code who is convicted of violating this Section is guilty of a business offense and shall be required to pay a fine in excess of $500, but not more than $1,000. However, no person charged with violating this Section shall be convicted if such person produces in court satisfactory evidence that at the time of the arrest the motor vehicle was covered by a liability insurance policy in accordance with Section 7-601 of this Code." 625 ILCS 5/3-707 (West 1998).

The sole witness at defendant's bench trial was Officer Stephen Mechling of the University of Illinois police department. Officer Mechling testified that, on June 10, 1999, he stopped defendant's vehicle because the license plate registration sticker on that vehicle had expired. Defendant explained that he had borrowed the car and therefore did not know that the sticker had expired. Officer Mechling then asked defendant whether the vehicle was insured, and defendant stated that he did not know. When defendant was unable to produce proof that the car was insured, Officer Mechling issued defendant a citation for operating an uninsured motor vehicle.

Defendant moved for a directed verdict. In that motion, defendant conceded that, if section 3-707 is an absolute liability offense, the State had established a prima facie case. Defendant argued, however, that section 3-707 is not an absolute liability offense but instead requires proof of a culpable mental state. According to defendant, because the State failed to prove that defendant either knew or should have known that the borrowed vehicle was uninsured, the State failed to prove defendant guilty of violating section 3-707. The trial court denied defendant's motion, holding that section 3-707 is an absolute liability offense. When no additional evidence was presented, the trial court found defendant guilty and imposed a fine of $501 plus court costs.

Defendant appealed, and the appellate court reversed his conviction (316 Ill. App. 3d 219). In doing so, the appellate court held that neither the plain language of nor the public policy underlying section 3-707 justifies the imposition of absolute liability. 316 Ill. App. 3d at 222-24. We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315(a).

ANALYSIS

The issue in this case is whether section 3-707 creates an absolute liability offense. When construing a statute, this court's primary objective is to ascertain and give effect to the legislature's intent. Boaden v. Department of Law Enforcement, 171 Ill. 2d 230, 237 (1996). We begin with the language of the statute, which must be given its plain and ordinary meaning. Davis v. Toshiba Machine Co., America, 186 Ill. 2d 181, 184 (1999). Where the language is clear and unambiguous, we will apply the statute without resort to further aids of statutory construction. Davis, 186 Ill. 2d at 185. One of the fundamental principles of statutory construction is to view all provisions of an enactment as a whole. Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 504 (2000). Words and phrases should not be construed in isolation, but must be interpreted in light of other relevant provisions of the statute. Michigan Avenue National Bank, 191 Ill. 2d at 504. The standard of review on questions of statutory interpretation is de novo. Michigan Avenue National Bank, 191 Ill. 2d at 503.

Turning to section 3-707, we begin our analysis with the guidelines set forth by the legislature in section 4-9 of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the Criminal Code) (720 ...


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