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People v. Johnson

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 19, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellee,
v.
OMAR JOHNSON, Appellant.

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

OPINION

FREEMAN JUSTICE

¶ 1 This case concerns whether section 4-2002.1(a) of the Counties Code (55 ILCS 5/4-2002.1(a) (West 2008)), which permits State's Attorneys to collect a $50 fee "[f]or each day actually employed in the hearing of a case of habeas corpus, " also permits State's Attorneys to collect such a fee when they participate in the hearing of a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to section 2-1401 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1401 (West 2008)). The circuit court of Cook County assessed the fee, and the appellate court affirmed. 2012 IL App (1st) 111378. This court allowed Johnson's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). For the following reasons, we reverse, in part, the judgments of the circuit and appellate courts and remand this cause to the circuit court with directions that it vacate the $50 State's Attorney fee.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Petitioner Omar Johnson was convicted of first degree murder, armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, aggravated kidnapping and concealment of a homicidal death. He was sentenced to a term of natural life for murder; 60 years' imprisonment for armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking and aggravated kidnapping; and 10 years' imprisonment for concealment of a homicidal death. The appellate court affirmed Johnson's convictions and sentences on appeal, as well as the circuit court's dismissal of his subsequent postconviction petition (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2004)).

¶ 4 Johnson filed a section 2-1401 petition in 2008, which the circuit court erroneously dismissed, and the appellate court remanded the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings. Subsequently, the State filed a motion to dismiss the petition. At a hearing in 2010, Johnson withdrew his original petition and filed an amended petition. The State filed a motion to dismiss the amended petition and requested that Johnson be assessed filing fees and court costs for filing a frivolous petition, as provided for in section 22-105(a) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/22-105(a) (West 2010)). That section permits a court to assess filing fees and court costs against an inmate who files a petition that the court determines is frivolous. 735 ILCS 5/22-105(a) (West 2010). The circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss and assessed numerous fees and costs against Johnson, including the $50 State's Attorney fee at issue here, pursuant to section 4-2002.1(a). Johnson now appeals to this court, challenging only the imposition of the $50 State's Attorney fee.

¶ 5 II. ANALYSIS

¶ 6 The sole issue before us is whether the $50 State's Attorney fee in section 4-2002.1(a) of the Counties Code applies to Johnson's section 2-1401 petition. Johnson contends that the fee was not statutorily authorized since section 4-2002.1(a) does not mention a section 2-1401 petition for relief from judgment.

¶ 7 The State responds that the fee should apply to all collateral proceedings in which the State is employed in the hearing of a case. The State argues there is little reason to differentiate between collecting a fee when the State's Attorney is employed "in the hearing of a case of habeas corpus" or in the hearing of a section 2-1401 petition or postconviction petition.

¶ 8 To answer the question presented on appeal, we must construe section 4-2002.1(a) of the Counties Code, which provides in relevant part:

"(a) State's attorneys shall be entitled to the following fees:
For each day actually employed in the hearing of a case of habeas corpus in which the people are interested, $50." 55 ILCS 5/4-2002.1(a) (West 2010).

¶ 9 Our primary objective in construing a statute is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature, bearing in mind that the best evidence of such intent is the statutory language, given its plain and ordinary meaning. Nowak v. City of Country Club Hills, 2011 IL 111838, ¶ 11. Where the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, we will apply the statute as written. Davis v. Toshiba Machine Co., America, 186 Ill.2d 181, 184-85 (1999). When statutory terms are undefined, we presume the legislature intended the terms to have their popularly understood meaning. People v. Smith, 236 Ill.2d 162, 167 (2010). Moreover, if a term has a settled legal meaning, the courts will normally infer that the legislature intended to incorporate the established meaning. Id. We review questions of statutory construction de novo. Ries v. City of Chicago, 242 Ill.2d 205, 216 (2011).

¶ 10 The appellate court agreed with the circuit court that the $50 State's Attorney fee should apply to Johnson's section 2-1401 petition. The court held that the statute referred to habeas corpus proceedings "generically" and was meant to encompass a section 2-1401 petition. 2012 IL App (1st) 111378, ΒΆ 13. The court further held that the statute applied to all collateral proceedings ...


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