The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman
Docket No. 93089-Agenda 21-September 2002.
Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Will County, defendant Thomas Pomykala was convicted of reckless homicide. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that section 9-3(b) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Code) (720 ILCS 5/9-3(b) (West 2000)) created an unconstitutional mandatory presumption of recklessness. 326 Ill. App. 3d 390. We granted the State's petition for leave to appeal. 177 Ill. 2d R. 315. We now affirm the appellate court.
Defendant was charged with two counts of reckless homicide in the death of Taylor Nicole Pirc. Defendant's car allegedly crossed the median of a divided two-way street and struck an oncoming car containing Taylor and her grandmother, Bernadine Pirc. Eyewitnesses testified that defendant was driving too fast and that his car had crossed the median more than once prior to striking the Pirc car. No skidmarks were found at the scene. Defendant told a police officer that he had been having trouble with his brakes and that they worked only 90% of the time. The officer saw a line of black liquid on the street running to a spot under the engine of defendant's car. The officer noticed a strong odor of alcohol on defendant's breath and he found approximately 18 empty beer cans in defendant's car. Defendant admitted to drinking several beers that day. He failed field sobriety tests and an intoxilizer test showed that he had a breath-alcohol concentration level of 0.21%. At defendant's trial, an auto mechanic testified that the brake fluid chamber on defendant's car was only 80% full. The main battery feed for the brake system was disconnected and the hydraulic pressure for the system was markedly reduced. Nonetheless, the mechanic testified, defendant's car should have had 30% braking power prior to the collision and should have stopped when the brake was applied, despite the reduced braking power. Defendant presented no evidence.
Over defendant's objection, the trial court gave the following non-Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI) instruction to the jury, which was taken from the language of section 9-3(b) of the Code:
"If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the alleged violation, such evidence shall be presumed to be evidence of a reckless act unless disproved by evidence to the contrary."
The jury returned guilty verdicts and the trial court sentenced defendant to 14 years' imprisonment.
The appellate court agreed with defendant that section 9-3(b) of the Code creates a mandatory presumption that violates defendant's right to due process. The court found that the presumption unconstitutionally shifts the burden of proof to defendant to establish that he was not acting recklessly. In reaching its conclusion, the appellate court relied on a decision of this court, People v. Watts, 181 Ill. 2d 133 (1998), and noted that the trial court had relied on People v. Atteberry, 213 Ill. App. 3d 851 (1991), which, the appellate court stated, had effectively been overruled by Watts. 326 Ill. App. 3d at 394.
The constitutionality of a statute is subject to de novo review. People v. Malchow, 193 Ill. 2d 413, 418 (2000). Statutes carry a strong presumption of constitutionality and the challenging party has the burden of rebutting that presumption. People v. Maness, 191 Ill. 2d 478, 483 (2000). This court has a duty to interpret a statute in a manner that upholds its validity and constitutionality if it can reasonably be done. People v. Fisher, 184 Ill. 2d 441, 448 (1998).
Section 9-3(b) of the Code provides that:
"In cases involving reckless homicide, being under the influence of alcohol or any other drug or drugs at the time of the alleged violation shall be presumed to be evidence of a reckless act unless disproved by evidence to the contrary." 720 ILCS 5/9-3(b) (West 2000).
A presumption is a legal device that permits or requires the fact finder to assume the existence of an ultimate fact, after certain predicate or basic facts have been established. Watts, 181 Ill. 2d at 141. While due process requires that the State prove every element of an offense beyond a reasonable doubt (In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368, 375, 90 S. Ct. 1068, 1073 (1970)), the State may be entitled to rely on certain presumptions or inferences. These devices "play a vital role in the expeditious resolution of factual questions, with the value of the presumption or inference resting on the strength of the connection between the elemental or ultimate fact presumed or inferred and the basic or evidentiary fact." People v. Hester, 131 Ill. 2d 91, 98 (1989).
Presumptions may be either permissive or mandatory. A permissive presumption allows, but does not require, the fact finder to infer the existence of the ultimate or presumed fact upon proof of the predicate fact. A mandatory presumption requires the fact finder to accept the presumption. Watts, 181 Ill. 2d at 142. Mandatory presumptions may be further classified as conclusive or rebuttable. The United States Supreme Court has held that mandatory conclusive presumptions are unconstitutional, as they conflict with the presumption of innocence. Sandstrom v. Montana, 442 U.S. 510, 523, 61 L. Ed. 2d 39, 50, 99 S. Ct. 2450, 2459 (1979). The Supreme Court has further held that mandatory rebuttable presumptions that shift the burden of persuasion to the defendant are per se unconstitutional, because they relieve the State of its burden to prove each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. Sandstrom, 442 U.S. at 524, 61 L. Ed. 2d at 51, 99 S. Ct. at 2459. In Watts, this court ...