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People v. Peterson

January 21, 2003


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Randolph County. No. 01-CF-107 Honorable William A. Schuwerk, Jr., Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

Michael A. Peterson has taken four brides. None of them have ever wanted to stay married to him for very long. In 1996, his second wife, Carol, simply could not rid herself of him without special help from the courts. When he ignored an order of protection that prohibited contact with Carol, repeatedly driving by her residence, Peterson was prosecuted and convicted of violating the protective order. He was fined and placed on conditional discharge.

This case involves a different wife but presents a similar story. Peterson's fourth wife, Dawn, procured an order of protection prohibiting him from having any contact with her. Once again, Peterson ignored the court's authority. This time his disregard for an order of protection landed him in prison.

The evidence at the trial established the following facts.

Spurred by physical and mental abuse from her husband, Dawn Peterson sought court-ordered protection under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 (750 ILCS 60/101 et seq. (West 2000)). A circuit judge entered a protective order on June 5, 2001, which, among other things, prohibited Peterson from harassing or stalking his wife. Dawn was awarded temporary exclusive possession of the marital residence located on the outskirts of Walsh, Illinois, a little town that lies southwest of Sparta, Illinois. Peterson was told by the court that he was not to have any contact with his frightened spouse.

Peterson moved into the Sparta Motel. Its location provided ample physical separation to easily avoid future contact with Dawn. Sparta was more than 10 miles northeast of Walsh, and most of the larger southern Illinois communities that Peterson might have reason to visit lay north of Sparta. This was particularly true of Red Bud, Illinois. It could be easily reached by traveling northwest of Sparta on a state highway that went directly to Red Bud. That highway, Route 154, would take Peterson in the opposite direction from his court-protected spouse's residence.

According to Peterson, Red Bud provided the nearest access to Amoco gasoline, Peterson's fuel of choice. On June 9, 2001, just four days after the protective order issued, Peterson drove to Red Bud. The Conoco station a few blocks from the Sparta Motel would simply not do.

Peterson's decision to drive more than 20 miles to replenish the source of power for his 1996 Monte Carlo was rendered particularly suspicious by his course of travel. Instead of steering a course northwest to Red Bud on Route 154, he started out in the opposite direction, driving south on Route 4, another state highway. After driving several miles south, he turned due west on Schuline Road. Schuline Road is a county back road used to get from Sparta to Walsh or Evansville, Illinois. Several houses line the road, including the one that Peterson used to live in-the one still occupied by his court-protected wife. Peterson had to pass the house on his way to Red Bud to purchase Amoco gasoline. After passing the house, he had to traverse the towns of Walsh and Evansville. Ultimately his circuitous route of travel to Red Bud took him to another state highway, Route 3. He headed north on Route 3, and after driving several additional miles, he arrived in Red Bud and filled his gas tank. Upon his return home, he again spurned a shorter drive via Route 154 and traveled a path that took him by his erstwhile abode.

Two days prior to this Red Bud excursion, and only two days after the protective order issued, Peterson had the misfortune of deciding to do some banking at the precise moment that Dawn, his court-protected spouse, was poised to exit her vehicle on the bank parking lot. According to Dawn, she sped off as Peterson approached her. Peterson was trying to have a word with her but was left standing on the lot talking to himself. On June 9, 2001, the same day that Peterson journeyed to Red Bud for gasoline, Dawn received a five-page letter in the mail. Its words echoed refrains that she had heard before. Peterson wrote, again promising to make amends.

According to Dawn, Peterson drove by her house at least six times on June 9, 2001. The fifth time that Dawn saw him drive by, he saw her. She was standing at the kitchen sink giving their five-month-old baby a bath when he saw her at the kitchen window. Peterson brought his car to an abrupt halt, got out, and assumed a position across Schuline Road that made him clearly visible to Dawn. He gestured to her, waving his hands about, to assure himself that he had her full attention. Then, he braced his stance, placed his hands on his hips, and glared at Dawn for well over a minute. When Dawn went to report his presence to the police, he left. However, he returned again after dark. Dawn saw him drive by at around 9:30 p.m.

Peterson was still cruising roads in the vicinity of the home at 11 p.m., when he was stopped by Shannon Wolff, a Randolph County deputy sheriff. Deputy Wolff had received the report from Dawn, and when he asked Peterson about the reported behavior, Peterson admitted driving by but not to seeing or having any contact with his court-protected spouse. He explained that he had to use Schuline Road earlier in the day in order to buy Amoco gasoline in Red Bud.

Peterson denied that he had repeatedly driven by Dawn's house. He also denied that he had gotten out of his car. He did admit that, by happenstance, he saw her at the bank a few days earlier, but he denied that he had made any approach to engage in conversation. A Randolph County jury heard these facts and returned a guilty verdict on the charge of violating an order of protection. The judge sentenced Peterson to a three-year prison term. This appeal ensued.

The State's information alleged that Peterson's violation of the order consisted of harassment and stalking, and the jury was instructed that the State had to prove harassment and stalking beyond a reasonable doubt.

The somewhat unique nature of the charge calls for an initial observation. In most cases of this kind, when a violation might fit an act of stalking as that term is defined under the Criminal Code of 1961 (see 720 ILCS 5/12-7.3(a) (West 2000)), it will usually also constitute an act of harassment as that term is defined under the Illinois Domestic Violence Act of 1986 (see 750 ILCS 60/214(b)(1) (West 2000)). Proof of harassment is all that is required in order to establish the offense of violating an order of protection. 720 ILCS 5/12-30 (West 2000). The State need only prove that a defendant's conduct would cause emotional distress to a reasonable person and that it, in fact, caused the court-protected person such distress. Where the conduct in violation of a protective order fits harassment and stalking, the State does not have to assume the added burden that an allegation of stalking would entail. However, if it does, it should, as a matter of course, instruct the jury on the meaning of the term "stalking." Since the ...

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