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People v. Barron

March 30, 2004

[5] THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN BARRON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



[6] Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Kenneth J. Wadas, Judge Presiding.

[7] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Burke

[8]  Following a bench trial, defendant John Barron was found guilty of two counts of felony disorderly conduct (720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(3) (West 2002)) for declaring to ticketing agents at Midway Airport that he had a bomb in his shoe. Defendant was sentenced to one year of conditional discharge and 185 days' imprisonment (time considered served). On appeal, defendant contends that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt because the evidence showed that his remarks were understood as a joke. Defendant argues that section 26-1(a)(3) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (Code) (720 ILCS 5/26-1(a)(3) (West 2002)) does not apply to remarks that are understood as jests. In the alternative, defendant contends that if section 26-1(a)(3) of the Code criminalizes a joking remark that is understood as such, the statute is unconstitutionally overbroad. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

[9]  At 1 p.m. on March 28, 2002, defendant approached the ticket counter of Frontier Airlines at Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois to check in for a flight he was scheduled to take at 7 p.m. on that date. Because defendant was too early to check in for his scheduled flight, the ticket agent offered defendant the option of taking an earlier flight so that he could check his bag and enter through security. Defendant accepted the offer, and the ticket agent began to process defendant for his new flight.

[10]   During the check in process, defendant began to ask the ticket agent, "[A]re you going to check me?" The ticket agent informed defendant that he was not a random selectee, meaning that the computer had not chosen defendant and his baggage to be personally searched at that point, so he would not be searching defendant or his bag. Defendant then leaned in toward the ticket counter and began waiving his arms in the air while he stuck his right leg forward and said, "I only have one bomb in my shoe." The ticket agent responded that defendant could not "joke" about possessing a bomb and that he needed to "simmer down right now and not be saying those things." The ticket agent also detected the odor of alcohol coming from defendant at this time. Defendant quieted down for a short time before once again getting excited and repeatedly asking the ticket agent if he was going to check him.

[11]   Another ticket agent, who was working alongside the agent dealing with defendant, overheard defendant's statement that he had a bomb in his shoe. This agent also informed defendant not to make comments like that because they were taken seriously. Defendant responded by laughing at the agent. After defendant began to once again state that his bag should be checked because the agents did not know "what was in his bag," he was informed that if he made one more comment, he would be denied boarding. Defendant once again laughed at the agent, who then notified the police.

[12]   Defendant's person and baggage were subsequently searched by police officers and a bomb-sniffing dog. No bomb was found. Thereafter, defendant was taken to a police room where he admitted several times to the officers that he told the ticket agent he had a bomb in his shoe.

[13]   The State subsequently charged defendant with two counts of felony disorderly conduct. The statute under which defendant was charged, section 26-1 of the Code, provides, in pertinent part:

[14]   "(a) A person commits disorderly conduct when he knowingly:

[15]   ***

[16]  
(3) Transmits or causes to be transmitted in any manner to another a false alarm to the effect that a bomb or other explosive of any nature *** is concealed in such place that its explosion or release would endanger human life, knowing at the time of such transmission that there is no reasonable ground for believing that such bomb *** is concealed in such place ***." 720 ILCS 5/ 26-1(a)(3) (West 2002).

[17]   Following a bench trial, defendant was found guilty of both counts of felony disorderly conduct. Defendant's subsequent motion for a new trial was denied and he was sentenced to one year of conditional discharge and 185 days' imprisonment (time considered served).

[18]   On appeal, defendant first contends that the State failed to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Defendant argues that section 26-1(a)(3) of the Code distinguishes between comments which actually "alarm" an individual and those which are understood as joking remarks. According to defendant, section 26-1(a)(3) only criminalizes remarks which have the effect of frightening a reasonable person in the listener's position. Defendant claims that because the ticket agents perceived his comments as joking remarks, the State failed to prove all the material elements of the offense of felony disorderly conduct.

[19]   When a defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, a reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and determine whether any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. People v. Pollock, 202 Ill. 2d 189, 217, 780 N.E.2d 669 (2002); see also People v. Cox, 195 Ill. 2d 378, 387, 748 N.E.2d 166 (2001). In the instant case, defendant's first contention also involves construing section 26-1(a)(3) of the Code, which is an issue of law that we review de novo. People v. Harrell, 342 Ill. App. 3d 904, 908, 795 N.E.2d 1022 (2003).

[20]   Defendant here attempts to place into section 26-1(a)(3) a requirement beyond that of the transmission of a false alarm. Specifically, defendant argues that section 26-1(a)(3) also requires that, once transmitted, the alarm must cause actual fear in the mind of the listener. As there have been no Illinois cases discussing this point, defendant cites to several cases from other jurisdictions in support of his contention, including Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 22 L. Ed. 2d 664, 89 S. Ct. 1399 (1969), United States v. Cothran, 286 F.3d 173 (3rd Cir. 2002), United States v. Malik, 16 F.3d 45 (2nd Cir. 1994), and State ex rel. RT, 781 So. 2d 1239 (La. 2001). According to defendant, these cases stand for the proposition that, at least in certain ...


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