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The People of the State of Illinois v. Abraham Garcia

January 21, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLANT,
v.
ABRAHAM GARCIA,
APPELLEE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Kilbride

CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

The issue in this appeal is whether a defendant's wrongful delay of criminal proceedings by violating bond and becoming a fugitive from justice tolls the 10-year limitation on prior convictions used to impose an extended-term sentence under section 5--5--3.2(b)(1) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5--5--3.2(b)(1) (West 1998)). The appellate court answered that question negatively, relying on the absence of statutory language specifically tolling the 10-year limit based on a defendant's wrongful delay. 396 Ill. App. 3d 792, 799. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the part of the appellate court's judgment construing the statute.

I. BACKGROUND

In November 1999, the State charged defendant, Abraham Garcia, with attempted first degree murder and aggravated battery, alleging that defendant beat the victim following a minor traffic incident on August 31, 1999.

Pertinent to this appeal, the circuit court of Cook County released defendant on bond, but later issued a bond forfeiture warrant when defendant failed to appear. The warrant was quashed when defendant appeared at a subsequent hearing. Defendant again failed to appear at another hearing. Thus, in November 2000, the court issued a second bond forfeiture warrant. For the next six years, defendant remained a fugitive from justice. Defendant was not rearrested until November 2006.

In 2008, defendant was tried in a bench trial. The State presented evidence that the victim, Roberto Rios, and his wife were driving on a public road when they encountered defendant's vehicle stopped on the road, blocking Rios' passage. After waiting briefly, Rios honked his car horn at defendant's vehicle. Defendant exited his vehicle and approached Rios' car. Defendant argued with Rios and unsuccessfully tried to hit Rios through an open car window. Rios and his wife then drove to a nearby restaurant.

Shortly afterwards, defendant and another man entered the restaurant and attacked Rios. Defendant restrained Rios while the other man repeatedly hit Rios with a metal pipe. Rios eventually fell to the ground. While Rios was on the ground, defendant hit him in the head with a glass pitcher, breaking the pitcher. Defendant then cut Rios' face with pieces of broken glass. During the attack, Rios sustained a broken arm and serious permanent injuries to his face. Ultimately, the trial court convicted defendant of three counts of aggravated battery.

At the sentencing hearing, the parties agreed that defendant was eligible for an extended-term sentence based on his 1993 conviction for possession of a stolen motor vehicle. The trial court sentenced defendant to three extended 90-month prison terms, to be served concurrently.

Defendant filed a motion to reconsider his sentence, arguing that he was not eligible for an extended-term sentence under section 5--5--3.2(b)(1) of the Code because that section authorized an extended-term sentence based only on prior convictions within the previous 10 years, but his 1993 conviction for possession of a stolen motor vehicle occurred more than 10 years before his 2008 conviction in this case. The trial court denied defendant's motion to reconsider, finding that the statutory 10-year limit was tolled during the six years when defendant willfully violated his bail bond.

On appeal, the appellate court agreed with defendant's challenge to his extended-term sentence. The court recognized that section 5--5--3.2(b)(1) was intended to impose harsher sentences on offenders who had demonstrated their resistance to correction through repeated convictions but also noted, as a penal statute, it must be strictly construed in favor of the defendant. Observing that the statute contained no express tolling language, the court declined to toll the 10-year time limit when a defendant wrongfully delayed the criminal proceedings. 396 Ill. App. 3d at 798-99.

Accordingly, the appellate court determined that defendant was not eligible for an extended-term sentence when his 1993 conviction occurred more than 10 years before his 2008 conviction. Consequently, the court vacated as void the extended-term portion of his sentence, consisting of 21/2 years. The court also remanded the cause to the trial court to vacate one of defendant's aggravated battery convictions under the one-act, one-crime doctrine. 396 Ill. App. 3d at 795-97.

We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). The State challenges only the part of the appellate court's judgment on the extended-term sentence issue, and we ...


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