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In Re Luis R., A Minor the People of the State of Illinois v. Luis R.

December 23, 2010

IN RE LUIS R., A MINOR THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLANT,
v.
LUIS R., APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Thomas

JUSTICE THOMAS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Garman, Karmeier, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Freeman dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Burke. Justice Burke dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.

OPINION

The State filed a petition in the circuit court of Boone County alleging that respondent, Luis R., was a delinquent minor. The trial court dismissed that petition for a lack of jurisdiction. The issue before us is whether that dismissal was warranted. For the reasons that follow, we hold that it was not.

BACKGROUND

On August 8, 2007, the State filed a petition in the circuit court of Boone County alleging that respondent was a delinquent minor and seeking to make him a ward of the court. 705 ILCS 405/5--520(2) (West 2008). The petition charged two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, arising from conduct that occurred "on or about June through August of 2000." Respondent immediately moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that, because he was now 21 years old, the trial court was "without jurisdiction over [his] person." The State, in turn, moved to prosecute respondent under the criminal laws (see 705 ILCS 405/5--805(3) (West 2008)) and, in a separate motion, asked the trial court to designate the proceedings as an extended jurisdiction juvenile prosecution (see 705 ILCS 405/5--810 (West 2008)). Without ruling on either of the State's motions, the trial court granted respondent's motion to dismiss.

The State appealed, and the appellate court affirmed. 388 Ill. App. 3d 730. In so doing, the court began by examining section 5--120 of the Juvenile Court Act, which states in relevant part:

"Exclusive jurisdiction. Proceedings may be instituted under the provisions of this Article concerning any minor who prior to the minor's 17th birthday has violated or attempted to violate *** any federal or State law or municipal or county ordinance ***. *** Except as provided in [certain other sections of the Act], no minor who was under 17 years of age at the time of the alleged offense may be prosecuted under the criminal laws of this State." 705 ILCS 405/5--120 (West 2008).

The court then noted that, under section 5--105(10) of the Act, a "minor" is defined as "a person under the age of 21 years subject to this Act." 705 ILCS 405/5--105(10) (West 2008). Thus, according to the plain language of the Act, the State may institute proceedings under the Act only against persons who (1) are under the age of 21 and (2) prior to turning 17, violated or attempted to violate the law. Here, although the State's petition alleged that respondent was younger than 17 when he committed the alleged crimes, respondent was no longer "under the age of 21" at the time that petition was filed. Accordingly, the appellate court held that, "read literally," section 5--120 "does not authorize the State to institute proceedings [against respondent] under the Act, even though respondent was under 17 years of age when he allegedly committed the crime."

(Emphasis omitted.) 388 Ill. App. 3d at 732-33. From there, the appellate court went on "to consider whether there are any grounds for departing from the literal interpretation" of the Act.*fn1 388 Ill. App. 3d at 733. Concluding that there were not, the appellate court affirmed the trial court's order dismissing the State's petition for lack of jurisdiction. 388 Ill. App. 3d at 738-39.

We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. 210 Ill. 2d R. 315.

ANALYSIS

The issue before us is whether the trial court properly granted respondent's motion to dismiss the State's delinquency petition for lack of jurisdiction. The absence or presence of jurisdiction is a purely legal question, and our review therefore is de novo. In re Detention of Hardin, 238 Ill. 2d 33, 39 (2010).

At the outset, we note that there is some confusion in the record as to the exact basis for the trial court's decision to grant respondent's motion to dismiss. More precisely, it is not clear whether the trial court's decision was based upon a perceived lack of personal jurisdiction, or a perceived lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter. On the one hand, the motion that respondent filed in the circuit court asserts that dismissal is warranted because the trial court "is without jurisdiction over [respondent's person]." Similarly, the trial court's written order granting that motion explicitly states that the basis for the trial court's ruling is that it "lacks jurisdiction over [respondent]." This phrasing clearly indicates both that respondent was requesting and that the trial court was granting a dismissal based on the lack of personal jurisdiction, not on the lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On the other hand, the trial court concluded the hearing on respondent's motion to dismiss with the following oral pronouncement:

"I'm just ruling that there is no jurisdiction under the Juvenile Court Act for this proceeding, and the motion is heard and granted." (Emphasis added.)

In this context, the trial court's use of the word "proceeding" suggests that the trial court was concerned more with its subject matter jurisdiction than with its jurisdiction over respondent's person. Likewise, in this court, the parties have briefed and argued this case strictly in terms of the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction and have not raised any arguments either contesting or defending the court's jurisdiction over respondent's person. So from those standpoints, this appears to be a subject matter jurisdiction case. Given this confusion, and because it ultimately makes no difference to our disposition, we will address ...


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