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The People of the State of Illinois v. Claudia Madrigal

March 24, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLANT,
v.
CLAUDIA MADRIGAL,
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 Freeman, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Defendant, Claudia Madrigal, was indicted in the circuit court of Kane County on one count of identity theft in violation of section 16G--15(a)(7) of the Identity Theft Law (720 ILCS 5/16G--15(a)(7) (West 2008)). Section 16G--15(a)(7) provides that "[a] person commits the offense of identity theft when he or she knowingly *** uses any personal identification information or personal identification document of another for the purpose of gaining access to any record of the actions taken, communications made or received, or other activities or transactions of that person, without the prior express permission of that person." 720 ILCS 5/16G--15(a)(7) (West 2008). The indictment alleged that defendant "knowingly used personal identification information of Gabriela Vasquez, being Gabriela Vazquez's name, date of birth, and address, to gain access to a record of actions taken, activities or transactions of Gabriela Vazquez, without the prior express permission of Gabriela Vasquez." A person convicted of violating section 16G--15(a)(7) for the first time is guilty of a Class 3 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison. 720 ILCS 5/16G--15(d)(2) (West 2008); 730 ILCS 5/5--4.5--40(a) (West 2008).

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, seeking dismissal on three separate due process grounds. First, defendant maintained that section 16G--15(a)(7) is unconstitutionally vague because its prohibitions are not sufficiently definite, when measured by common understanding and practices, to give a person of ordinary intelligence fair warning as to what conduct is prohibited. Second, defendant argued that the charging instrument is impermissibly vague. And finally, defendant argued that section 16G--15(a)(7) fails to require a culpable mental state and therefore can be read to apply to conduct that is wholly innocent.

After a hearing on the motion to dismiss the indictment, the circuit court denied the first two grounds for dismissal. But it granted the motion to dismiss on the third ground, finding that the statutory subsection at issue lacks a culpable mental state and captures innocent conduct, thus violating due process. The trial court later entered an order under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 18 (Ill. S. Ct. R. 18 (eff. Sept. 1, 2006)), indicating that section 16G--15(a)(7) is unconstitutional on its face as violative of substantive due process under the fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV) and article I, section 2, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, §2). The court further found that the statute could not be reasonably construed in a manner that preserves its constitutionality and that the judgment of dismissal could not rest on any alternative grounds. The State properly appealed directly to this court as a matter of right. See Ill. S. Ct. R. 603 (eff. Oct. 1, 2010). We now consider the constitutionality of section 16G--15(a)(7) of the identity theft statute.

ANALYSIS

We begin by noting that the question of whether a statute is unconstitutional is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. People v. Johnson, 225 Ill. 2d 573, 584 (2007). All statutes are presumed constitutional, and the party challenging the constitutionality of a statute has the burden of clearly establishing that it violates the constitution. People v. Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d 250, 267 (2008); Johnson, 225 Ill. 2d at 584. Under the banner of its police power, the legislature has wide discretion to fashion penalties for criminal offenses, but this discretion is limited by the constitutional guarantee of substantive due process, which provides that a person may not be deprived of liberty without due process of law. People v. Wright, 194 Ill. 2d 1, 24 (2000). When the challenged statute does not affect a fundamental constitutional right, the appropriate test for determining its constitutionality is the highly deferential rational basis test. Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d at 267; Johnson, 225 Ill. 2d at 584-85. Under that test, a statute will be sustained if it " 'bears a reasonable relationship to a public interest to be served, and the means adopted are a reasonable method of accomplishing the desired objective.' " Wright, 194 Ill. 2d at 24 (quoting People v. Adams, 144 Ill. 2d 381, 390 (1991)).

Accordingly, we must first determine the statute's purpose in order to assess whether the prohibitions contained in section 16G--15(a)(7) reasonably implement that purpose. The language of the statute itself is the best indicator of the legislative intent and statutory purpose. Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d at 268. We will therefore look to the specific language of the Identity Theft Law to determine its purpose.

The legislative declaration in section 16G--5(a) of the Identity Theft Law states that it is the "public policy of this State that the substantial burden placed upon the economy *** as a result of the rising incidence of identity theft and the negative effect of this crime on the People of this State and its victims is a matter of grave concern *** and therefore identity theft shall be identified and dealt with swiftly and appropriately." 720 ILCS 5/16G--5(a) (West 2008). Section 16G--5(b) continues by declaring that the "widespread availability and unauthorized access to personal identification information have led and will lead to a substantial increase in identity theft related crimes." 720 ILCS 5/16G--5(b) (West 2008). From the foregoing, it is clear, and both parties agree, that the purpose of the identity theft statute is to protect the economy and people of Illinois from the ill-effects of identity theft.

Crucial to defendant's argument that section 16G--15(a)(7) is unconstitutional is the charge that it does not contain a culpable mental state and therefore results in potentially punishing wholly innocent conduct. This court has repeatedly held that a statute violates the due process clauses of both the Illinois and United States Constitutions if it potentially subjects wholly innocent conduct to criminal penalty without requiring a culpable mental state beyond mere knowledge. See, e.g., Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d at 269 (struck down a statute that "potentially criminalizes innocent conduct, as it visits the status of a felon upon anyone who owns or operates a vehicle he or she knows to contain a false or secret compartment, defined as one intended and designed to conceal the compartment or its contents from law enforcement officers"); Wright, 194 Ill. 2d at 25, 28 (struck down record-keeping statute because it "potentially subjects *** innocent conduct to *** a severe penalty"); In re K.C., 186 Ill. 2d 542, 549, 553 (1999) (invalidated criminal trespass to a vehicle statute that prohibited entering a vehicle whenever it was done "knowingly and without authority" because it "potentially punish[ed] wholly innocent conduct without requiring proof of a culpable mental state"); People v. Zaremba, 158 Ill. 2d 36, 42-43 (1994) (theft statute did not bear a reasonable relationship to its purpose because "it potentially subject[ed] wholly innocent conduct to punishment" and failed to require a culpable mental state other than that the defendant do the prohibited actions "knowingly"); People v. Wick, 107 Ill. 2d 62, 66 (1985) ("Because aggravated arson as defined by the statute does not require an unlawful purpose in setting a fire, however, the statute as presently constituted sweeps too broadly by punishing innocent as well as culpable conduct in setting fires.").

Simply put, this court has held that in such cases, a statute fails the rational basis test because it does not represent a reasonable method of preventing the targeted conduct. See Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d at 269; Wright, 194 Ill. 2d at 25. In Carpenter, we considered the facial constitutionality of a statute that banned false or secret compartments in automobiles. Because the statute in that case lacked a culpable mental state beyond both knowledge of the compartment's capacity to conceal and an intent to conceal, we held that the statute "d[id] not contain a reasonable means of preventing the targeted conduct, and it therefore violate[d] due process." Carpenter, 228 Ill. 2d at 269.

In Wright, we considered the constitutionality of an automobile record-keeping statute designed to prevent the transfer or sale of stolen motor vehicles (see 625 ILCS 5/5--401.2(a) (West 1996)). In declaring the statute unconstitutional on its face, we held that it could not "withstand scrutiny under the rational basis test." Wright, 194 Ill. 2d at 25. We found that "[i]n analogous cases, this court and courts in other jurisdictions have held that criminal statutes that potentially punish innocent conduct violate due process principles because they are not reasonably designed to achieve their purposes." Wright, 194 Ill. 2d at 25.

In the present case, section 16G--15(a) of the Identity Theft Law attempts to implement its statutory purpose of ...


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