Appeal from the Circuit Court of Boone County. No. 01-CF-81. Honorable Gerald F. Grubb, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Byrne
Following a jury trial, defendant, Billy J. Effler, was convicted of conspiracy to commit forgery and sentenced to five years' imprisonment pursuant to the first clause of section 8-2(c) of the Criminal Code of 1961 (the Code) (720 ILCS 5/8-2(c) (West 2000)), which provides that a person convicted of conspiracy may be imprisoned for a term not to exceed the maximum provided for the offense that is the object of the conspiracy. The underlying offense of forgery is a Class 3 felony. 720 ILCS 5/17-3(d) (West 2000). Defendant's sole contention on appeal is that the trial court should have construed the statute in its entirety and sentenced him under the last clause, because it applies to offenses, such as forgery, that are not enumerated in section 8-2(c) and limits the punishment for conspiracy to commit such an offense to that allowed for a Class 4 felony, which carries a maximum of three years (see 730 ILCS 5/5-8-1(a)(7) (West 2000)). We agree.
Because this case involves only a question of statutory interpretation, which we must review de novo (see People v. Robinson, 172 Ill. 2d 452, 457 (1996)), we dispense with the facts of the case. All that is relevant here is that defendant was convicted of conspiracy to commit forgery. Accordingly, we begin our analysis with the statute. It provides:
"A person convicted of conspiracy may be fined or imprisoned or both not to exceed the maximum provided for the offense which is the object of the conspiracy, except that if the object is an offense prohibited by Sections 11-15, 11-16, 11-17, 11-19, 24- 1(a)(1), 24-1(a)(7), 28-1, 28-3 and 28-4 of the 'Criminal Code of 1961', approved July 28, 1961, as amended, or prohibited by Sections 404 or 406(b) of the 'Illinois Controlled Substances Act', enacted by the 77th General Assembly, or an inchoate offense related to any of the aforesaid principal offenses, the person convicted may be sentenced for a Class 3 felony however, conspiracy to commit treason, first degree murder, or aggravated kidnapping shall not be sentenced in excess of a Class 2 felony, and conspiracy to commit any offense other than those specified in this subsection, and other than those set forth in Sections 401, 402, or 407 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act, shall not be sentenced in excess of a Class 4 felony." (Emphasis added.) 720 ILCS 5/8-2(c) (West 2000).
Defendant does not dispute that he was convicted of conspiracy to commit forgery and that forgery is a Class 3 felony. 720 ILCS 5/17- 3(d) (West 2000). The trial court sentenced defendant to five years' imprisonment, the maximum allowed for a Class 3 felony, based upon the language in the first clause of section 8-2(c), which permits "[a] person convicted of conspiracy to be fined or imprisoned or both not to exceed the maximum provided for the offense which is the object of the conspiracy." 720 ILCS 5/8-2(c) (West 2000). Under defendant's reading of the statute, however, he maintains that the first clause applies to conspiracies to commit misdemeanors and that the last clause applies to his conviction, because conspiracy to commit forgery is not specifically listed in the statute. Accordingly, defendant argues that the trial court should have sentenced him as a Class 4 offender under the last clause. The State maintains that a person who is convicted of conspiracy to commit forgery should be sentenced under the first clause and that interpreting the first clause as applying solely to misdemeanors as defendant urges amounts to reading into the statute a limitation that the legislature did not express.
Our primary objective when construing the meaning of a disputed statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. People v. Zaremba, 158 Ill. 2d 36, 40 (1994). Courts should consider the statute in its entirety, keeping in mind the subject it addresses and the legislature's apparent objective in enacting it. Gill v. Miller, 94 Ill. 2d 52, 56 (1983). The most reliable indicator of legislative intent is the language of the statute, which, if plain and unambiguous, must be read without exception, limitation, or other condition. People v. Lavallier, 187 Ill. 2d 464, 468 (1999); People v. Robinson, 172 Ill. 2d 452, 457 (1996).
A court should not construe a statute in a manner that would lead to consequences that are absurd, inconvenient, or unjust. A court should avoid an interpretation of a statute that would render any portion of it meaningless or void. Paciga v. Property Tax Appeal Board, 322 Ill. App. 3d 157, 161 (2001). Moreover, a criminal or penal statute is to be strictly construed in favor of the accused, and nothing should be taken by intendment or implication beyond the obvious or literal meaning of the statute. People v. Laubscher, 183 Ill. 2d 330, 337 (1998). Any ambiguity in a penal statute must be resolved in favor of the defense. People v. Whitney, 188 Ill. 2d 91, 98 (1999).
When interpreting a statute, the court may consider the reason and necessity for the law, the evils sought to be remedied, and the purposes to be achieved. People v. Storms, 254 Ill. App. 3d 139, 142 (1993). Conspiracy requires an agreement to commit a specific crime and an overt act in furtherance of the agreement. People v. Moorhead, 128 Ill. App. 3d 137, 141 (1984). A conspiracy to commit a crime generally is not considered to be as serious an offense as the underlying offense itself, unless the legislature intends otherwise. Therefore, the legislature's classifications of conspiracies should ensure that the sentencing structure is proportionate to the seriousness of the underlying offenses, with realistic maximums.
Applying these principles to the present case, we have carefully examined the statute to determine whether the last clause applies to conspiracy to commit forgery. We find that it does.
It is clear that the first clause is a general provision that "sets the ceiling" for persons convicted of conspiracies. It directs the court that "[a] person convicted of conspiracy may be fined or imprisoned or both not to exceed the maximum provided for the offense which is the object of the conspiracy." 720 ILCS 5/8-2(c) (West 2000). In other words, the legislature intends that the conspiracy offender cannot be punished more severely for the conspiracy offense than he or she would be punished for the underlying offense. The first clause appears to apply to both felony and misdemeanor offenses, as the only limitation it sets is that the person convicted of the conspiracy offense may be "fined" or "imprisoned" or "both."
The second clause of section 8-2(c) applies to certain enumerated misdemeanors and other offenses, such as those prohibited by section 404 or 406(b) of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (720 ILCS 570/404, 406(b) (West 2000)), and it is relevant to this case only in that conspiracy to commit forgery is not listed there. Similarly, the third clause of section 8-2(c) applies to conspiracies to commit the capital offenses of treason, first-degree murder, and aggravated kidnapping. Clearly, conspiracy to commit forgery is not enumerated in the third clause either.
The final clause, however, provides that conspiracy to commit any offense not specified in the statute "shall not be sentenced in excess of a Class 4 felony." 720 ILCS 5/8-2(c) (West 2000). Therefore, unlike the first clause of section 8-2(c), the final clause distinguishes between conspiracies to commit felonies and misdemeanors. Clearly, the legislature has reduced the maximum punishment for those felony conspiracy offenses that are not specifically enumerated in the statute. An isolated reading of the first clause would indicate that conspiracy to commit any felony may be punished as severely as the underlying offense. However, for conspiracy to commit an unspecified felony, the final clause reduces the punishment to no greater than the maximum for a Class 4 felony.
Construing the statute in its entirety, we hold that, for offenses that are not enumerated in section 8-2(c), the final clause limits the maximum punishment for conspiracy to commit a felony to that allowed for a Class 4 felony, and the first clause limits the maximum punishment for conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor to the maximum provided for the underlying misdemeanor. Logically, conspiracy to commit any misdemeanor other than those mentioned in the statute would be within only the first clause of section 8-2(c). We emphasize that the first clause of section 8-2(c) would also apply to sections 401, 402, and 407 of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act (720 ILCS 570/401, 402, 407 (West 2000)). Conspiracy to commit an offense under sections 401, 402, and 407 may not be punished more severely than the underlying offense. Furthermore, the last clause cannot apply to a ...