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In re Justin M.B.

March 20, 2003

IN RE JUSTIN M.B., A MINOR (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE, V. JUSTIN M.B., APPELLANT).


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Garman

Agenda 5-January 2003.

Pursuant to a negotiated plea agreement with the State, Justin M.B. admitted to two charges alleged in juvenile delinquency petitions. The circuit court of Vermilion County accepted the admissions and sentenced him to five years of probation. After a hearing on a subsequent petition to revoke probation, the trial court committed Justin M.B. to the Department of Corrections, Juvenile Division. We granted leave to appeal (177 Ill. 2d R. 315) to determine whether the requirement of section 5-620 of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/5-620 (West 1998)) that the court make a notation of a finding of guilt is jurisdictional in nature.

BACKGROUND

On February 2, 1998, the State filed a juvenile petition in No. 98-JD-15, which alleged that the minor, Justin M.B., committed a residential burglary. On April 13, 1998, the parties tendered a written plea agreement to the court. The court accepted the agreement, which specified that the court would impose a sentence of two years' probation.

On September 24, 1998, the State filed a juvenile petition in No. 98-JD-196, which alleged that Justin M.B. committed another residential burglary. The State also filed a juvenile petition requesting that the court revoke the minor's probation for No. 98-JD-15 because the commission of the second residential burglary constituted a violation of the conditions of his probation. On October 19, 1998, the State filed a juvenile petition in No. 98-JD-205, which alleged that he committed aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and unlawful use of a weapon.

At the adjudicatory hearing on February 9, 1999, the parties offered another written plea agreement under which Justin M.B. admitted committing residential burglary and aggravated battery. In exchange, the State withdrew the petition to revoke probation and the charges of aggravated assault and unlawful use of a weapon. The trial court accepted the plea agreement and sentenced Justin M.B. to five years of probation, without making an oral finding of guilt. However, Judge Anderson referred to Justin M.B. as being under "my jurisdiction and a ward of this court." The docket sheet for this date states, "Admission accepted in each case; finding of delinquency entered. Proposed plea agreement approved and incorporated as the court's dispositional order herein."

On July 2, 1999, the State filed a petition to revoke Justin M.B.'s probation, alleging he violated his probation by committing cruelty to animals. The hearing on this petition was held on October 19, 1999, before Judge Fahey. The parties stipulated to evidence, but the defense disputed the sufficiency of the evidence. The transcripts of the proceeding and the docket sheet both reflect that the court found the State met its burden of proof. The court committed Justin M.B. to the Department of Corrections, Juvenile Division, for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. On February 14, 2000, the court heard testimony and committed him to the Department of Corrections for an indeterminate period.

Justin M.B. argues on appeal that the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the dispositional orders because the court never noted a finding of delinquency or guilt, as required by section 5-620 of the Act (705 ILCS 405/5-620 (West 1998)). The appellate court acknowledged that an opinion from a different appellate district analyzed the same issue and held the trial court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to enter dispositional orders given its failure to make an explicit finding of delinquency first. In re J.S.L., 197 Ill. App. 3d 148, 154 (1990). The appellate court in the present case declined to follow J.S.L. because its interpretation was too "formalistic" (No. 4-00-0166 (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)) and upheld the order of commitment.

ANALYSIS

The cardinal principle of statutory interpretation is that the court must effectuate legislative intent. Solich v. George & Anna Portes Cancer Prevention Center of Chicago, Inc., 158 Ill. 2d 76, 83 (1994). The best indicator of legislative intent is statutory language. Michigan Avenue National Bank v. County of Cook, 191 Ill. 2d 493, 504 (2000). If statutory language is plain, the court cannot read limitations or conditions into the statute. In re D.D., 196 Ill. 2d 405, 419 (2001). We review issues of statutory interpretation de novo. In re Application of the Cook County Treasurer, 185 Ill. 2d 428, 432 (1998).

Section 5-620 of the Act states:

"After hearing the evidence, the court shall make and note in the minutes of the proceeding a finding of whether or not the minor is guilty. *** If the court finds that the minor is guilty, the court shall then set a time for a sentencing hearing ***." (Emphasis added.) 705 ILCS 405/5-620 (West 1998).

The juvenile proceedings concerning Justin M.B. occurred both before and after the effective date of the amendments to the Act contained in Public Act 90-590 (eff. January 1, 1999). However, these and prior amendments to this section changed only some terminology and section numbering. *fn1 Previous versions of this section contained the same requirement of a notation of the finding of delinquency or guilt prior to the sentencing hearing. See 705 ILCS 405/5-20 (West 1996); Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 37, par. 704-8; Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 37, par. 704-8.

Neither party disputes that the language of section 5-620 plainly requires the court to make a notation of the finding of guilt prior to sentencing. The issue presented by the parties is whether failure to comply with this statutory requirement deprived the trial court of subject-matter jurisdiction to enter the subsequent dispositional order. We need ...


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