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The People of the State of De Kalb County. v. Matthew Rich

November 3, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court OF ILLINOIS, No. 09-CF-643 Honorable Robbin J. Stuckert, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Jorgensen

PRESIDING JUSTICE JORGENSEN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hudson and Birkett concurred in the judgment and opinion.


¶ 1 The State appeals the trial court's dismissal of its indictment charging 21-year-old defendant, Matthew Rich, in adult criminal court with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault (720 ILCS 5/12-14(b)(i) (West 2008))*fn1 that defendant allegedly committed when he was under age 15. The trial court dismissed the indictment on the basis that the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 2008)) contemplates proceedings to be instituted under that Act when a minor, prior to his or her seventeenth birthday, commits a crime. For the following reasons, we affirm.


¶ 3 Defendant was born on May 2, 1989. On November 10, 2009, defendant (age 20) was charged by complaint with two counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault in that, on or about May 1, 2002, through May 1, 2004, defendant, when "under 17 years of age," committed acts of sexual penetration with minor K.N., "who was under 9 years of age when the act was committed," in that he placed his finger and penis in K.N.'s vagina. Three months later, on February 19, 2010, the State charged defendant (still age 20) by indictment with the same acts. Defendant moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that, pursuant to section 5-120 of the Act (705 ILCS 405/5-120 (West 2008)), because the indictment alleged that he committed the acts between the ages of 12 and 14, the State could not prosecute him as an adult for those offenses. Defendant argued that juvenile court would have exclusive jurisdiction of the charges against defendant and, further, that his due process rights would be violated by prosecuting him as an adult for offenses that allegedly occurred when he was a minor.

¶ 4 On July 23, 2010, after defendant turned 21 years old and before the court had ruled on the motion to dismiss, the State filed a superseding indictment that was identical to the original indictment. Thereafter, defendant filed a second motion to dismiss on the same bases as his motion to dismiss the original indictment. After a hearing on the motion to dismiss the superseding indictment, the court, on November 4, 2010, granted defendant's motion to dismiss, noting that, if defendant had been 15 years old when he allegedly committed the crimes, the Act would automatically require that he be prosecuted in criminal court (705 ILCS 405/5-130(1)(a) (West 2008)). However, strict construction of the Act reflected that, because defendant was only 14 years old or younger when he allegedly committed the offenses, proceedings were proper only under the Act. The State appeals.


¶ 6 The issue on appeal concerns whether proceedings against a person who is a minor when an alleged offense is committed, but an adult when charged, may be initiated in adult criminal court. The State argues that, according to this court's decision in In re Luis R., 388 Ill. App. 3d 730 (2009), delinquency proceedings under the Act may not be initiated against an individual 21 years of age or older, leaving prosecution in criminal court as the only option for charging an adult who committed a crime while a minor. Defendant, in contrast, argues that, because he allegedly committed the crimes as a minor, the Act governs and he may not be prosecuted as an adult in criminal court. For two reasons, we conclude that the trial court properly dismissed the indictment.

¶ 7 First, the court's dismissal was proper because the indictment was legally defective. Specifically, the indictment alleged that defendant committed the offenses on or about May 1, 2002, through May 1, 2004; as defendant's birthday is May 2, 1989, it charged defendant with committing a crime while age 12, that is, an offense on May 1, 2002. Section 6-1 of the Criminal Code of 1961, entitled "Infancy," provides that "no person shall be convicted of any offense unless he had attained his 13th birthday at the time the offense was committed." 720 ILCS 5/6-1 (West 2008). Accordingly, to the extent the indictment alleged that defendant committed acts of aggravated criminal sexual assault while age 12, he cannot be convicted of those offenses and the indictment was properly dismissed as legally defective.

¶ 8 We do not, however, affirm solely on that basis. In the event that the State chooses to re-indict defendant and includes only acts he allegedly committed while ages 13 and 14, the issue whether the indictment may be brought in criminal court would again arise. Accordingly, we consider the substantive question posed, specifically, whether defendant, age 21, may be charged in criminal court with crimes he allegedly committed as a minor and, specifically, before age 15. We review de novo issues of law and questions involving statutory interpretation. People v. Jones, 214 Ill. 2d 187, 193 (2005) (questions of law reviewed de novo). Statutory language is the most reliable indicator of the legislature's intent. People v. Pullen, 192 Ill. 2d 36, 42 (2000). The Act governs crimes committed by minors who were under age 17 at the time of the offenses (705 ILCS 405/5-120 (2008)) and it is proper, when interpreting the Act, to consider it in its entirety, remaining mindful of "the subject it addresses and the legislature's apparent objective in enacting it." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) In re Jaime P., 223 Ill. 2d 526, 532 (2006) (interpreting the Act and quoting People v. Taylor, 221 Ill. 2d 157, 162-63 (2006) (also interpreting the Act)). Further, criminal or penal statutes are strictly construed in the accused's favor. People v. Laubscher, 183 Ill. 2d 330, 337 (1998). The State, relying upon this court's decision in Luis R.,*fn2 asks us to conclude that proceedings may be initiated in criminal court against a person age 21 or older who allegedly committed a crime as a minor. Keeping in mind the foregoing standards of statutory interpretation, we decline the State's invitation to render such a broad pronouncement.

¶ 9 We agree that, upon reaching age 21, a defendant outgrows his or her juvenile status and is no longer subject to the correctional scheme contemplated by the Act (Luis R., 388 Ill. App. 3d at 733-36; see also In re Luis R., 239 Ill. 2d 295, 308-09 (2010) (Freeman, J., dissenting)), and we acknowledge that the legislature amended the purpose of the Act to emphasize juvenile accountability and the protection of society (see 705 ILCS 405/5-101(1)(a), (1)(b) (West 2008); In re J.W., 204 Ill. 2d 50, 69 (2003) (amendment represents "fundamental shift from the singular goal of rehabilitation to include the overriding concerns for protecting the public and of holding juveniles accountable for violations of the law")). However, and regardless of how other states have interpreted their own juvenile laws, it does not necessarily follow that the statutory scheme enacted by our General Assembly contemplates that a person who commits certain crimes as a minor must be subjected to criminal court and its attendant penalties merely because he or she is an adult when charges are initiated. Indeed, in such circumstances, as here, radically different sentences for the same crime, committed at the same age, might result merely from the passage of time before being charged.*fn3 Accordingly, we consider whether legislative intent, as expressed by the Act, contemplates such a result under the circumstances of this case. We conclude that it does not.

¶ 10 The Act generally provides to minors "a special procedural and substantive enclave" that renders protective and preferential treatment not available to adults accused of committing crimes. See In re Luis R., 239 Ill. 2d at 307-08 (Freeman, J., dissenting). Indeed, section 5-120 of the Act states that, except as provided in four 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). None of those four exceptions are met here.

¶ 11 The first exception is simply inapplicable.*fn4 The second exception concerns automatic-transfer crimes. Indeed, by focusing primarily on defendant's age, the parties have neglected to consider that the Act places great emphasis on the crime with which a defendant is charged. "[T]he framework of the Act *** turns on the offenses in the charging instrument. This court has long recognized that the classification at issue in the Act is based on the minor's age and the type of offense charged." (Emphasis added.) People v. King, 241 Ill. 2d 374, 385-86 (2011). Accordingly, it is critical here that defendant is not charged with an automatic-transfer crime under section 5-130 of the Act (the second exception provided by section 5-120). 705 ILCS 405/5-130(1)(a) (West 2008). Section 5-130 provides, in part, that any minor who commits a specified crime, including aggravated criminal sexual assault, and, at the time of the offense, was "at least 15 years of age," shall be prosecuted under the criminal laws of this state. Id. This provision clearly reflects that, as it relates to prosecution and sentencing, the General Assembly determined critical an interplay between age and specific crimes such that, where a minor age 15 or older commits any of the specified crimes, prosecution in criminal court, with its attendant correctional scheme, is deemed appropriate. Indeed, it is automatic. Conversely, then, when a minor under age 15 commits any of those same crimes, there is no automatic transfer to criminal court and, therefore, the reasonable ...

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