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In re Shelby R.

Supreme Court of Illinois

September 19, 2013

In re SHELBY R., a Minor
v.
Shelby R., Appellee. The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant,

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

OPINION

THEIS JUSTICE

¶ 1 The principal issue in this appeal is whether the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (Act) (705 ILCS 405/1-1 et seq. (West 2010)) authorizes a trial court to commit a minor to the Department of Juvenile Justice (Department) when the minor, who was adjudicated delinquent for unlawful consumption of alcohol, violates the conditions of her probation. The appellate court held that the Act does not permit commitment to the Department and reversed the judgment of the trial court. 2012 IL App (4th) 110191.

¶ 2 For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On December 30, 2009, in the Champaign County circuit court, the State filed a petition for adjudication of wardship with respect to respondent, Shelby R., then 14 years old. The petition alleged that on December 29, 2009, respondent committed the offenses of domestic battery (720 ILCS 5/12-3.2(a)(1), (2) (West 2010)), in that she punched a family member, and tore another family member's shirt; aggravated assault (720 ILCS 5/12-2(a)(1) (West 2010)), in that she waved a knife at her mother; and unlawful consumption of alcohol (235 ILCS 5/6-20(e) (West 2010)). Respondent was appointed counsel and entered a general denial to the charges. The trial court granted the State's motion to detain respondent pending further proceedings and ordered that respondent be detained at the Champaign County Youth Detention Center.

¶ 5 Trial on the State's petition was scheduled for February 1, 2010. On that date, the trial court was advised that respondent had been accepted into a residential substance abuse treatment program at Gateway Foundation in Carbondale. The trial court continued the case for status, putting the trial "on hold" until respondent completed treatment.

¶ 6 In April 2010, respondent left Gateway without completing the program. As a consequence, the following month respondent was again confined to the Champaign County Youth Detention Center, where she remained until June 7, 2010. On that date, respondent pled guilty to unlawful consumption of alcohol, a Class A misdemeanor (235 ILCS 5/6-20(f) (West 2010)), in exchange for dismissal of the domestic battery and aggravated assault charges. The State provided a factual basis for the charge, advising the court that on December 29, 2009, respondent admitted to a police officer that she had consumed alcohol, and that a breath test revealed a blood-alcohol content of 0.142. The trial court accepted the plea, adjudicated respondent a delinquent minor, and made her a ward of the court. On respondent's motion, the trial court released respondent from detention to the custody of her mother, pending sentencing.

¶ 7 On July 7, 2010, the trial court sentenced respondent to 18 months' probation. Among the conditions of her probation was that respondent refrain from consuming any alcoholic beverages or using illicit drugs. Respondent was also required to submit to random drug testing.

¶ 8 On September 8, 2010, the State filed a petition to revoke respondent's probation. The State alleged that on August 18, 2010, respondent submitted a urine sample that tested positive for the presence of marijuana and cocaine metabolites. Respondent subsequently admitted the probation violation. The trial court advised respondent of the possible consequences of that admission, including commitment to the Department for up to one year. The trial court revoked respondent's probation and, at a new sentencing hearing, committed respondent to the Department for an indeterminate term of 364 days, with a credit of 55 days for time spent in pretrial detention. Respondent was thereafter conveyed to the Department's facility in Warrenville.

¶ 9 Respondent filed a motion to reconsider her sentence, arguing that the Act prohibits commitment to the Department for unlawful consumption of alcohol. The trial court disagreed, and denied respondent's motion. Respondent challenged her sentence on appeal, and the appellate court reversed. 2012 IL App (4th) 110191.

¶ 10 The appellate court first recognized that because respondent had completed her sentence, the issue of its validity was moot. Id. ¶ 16. The appellate court, however, agreed with respondent that review was appropriate under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. Id. ¶ 17. On the merits, the appellate court held that the Act does not permit a minor to be sentenced to incarceration in the Department for unlawful consumption of alcohol. Id. ¶ 57.

¶ 11 We allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315(a) (eff. Feb. 26, 2010).

¶ 12 ANALYSIS

¶ 13 The State argues that we need not consider the propriety of respondent's sentence because the case is moot and, contrary to the appellate court's judgment, the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine is inapplicable. Alternatively, the State argues that even if the public interest exception applies, the appellate court misconstrued the Act. According to the State, the trial court's order committing respondent to the Department was proper, pursuant to section 1-4.1 of the Act (705 ILCS 405/1-4.1 (West 2010)), because respondent violated a valid court order when she violated the terms of her probation. On these issues of law our review proceeds de novo. Wright Development Group, LLC v. Walsh, 238 Ill.2d 620, 632-33 (2010); In re C.C., 2011 IL 111795, ¶ 29.

¶ 14 Mootness

¶ 15 An appeal is moot if no controversy exists or if events have occurred which foreclose the reviewing court from granting effectual relief to the complaining party. In re Marriage of Peters-Farrell, 216 Ill.2d 287, 291 (2005). Where, as here, the appeal involves the validity of a sentence, such appeal is rendered moot if the sentence has been served. People v. Roberson, 212 Ill.2d 430, 435 (2004); People v. Lynn, 102 Ill.2d 267, 272 (1984). Respondent acknowledged, in the appellate court, that she served her sentence. Thus, her appellate court appeal was moot. Although the general rule is that Illinois courts will not decide moot questions (Wright Development Group, 238 Ill.2d at 632), this court has recognized exceptions to that rule. See In re Alfred H.H., 233 Ill.2d 345, 355, 358, 361 (2009) (discussing the public interest exception, the "capable of repetition yet avoiding review" exception, and the collateral consequences exception to the mootness doctrine).

¶ 16 In the instant case, the appellate court held that the validity of respondent's sentence, although moot, was reviewable under the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine. 2012 IL App (4th) 110191, ¶ 17. This exception permits review of an otherwise moot question where the "magnitude or immediacy of the interests involved warrant[s] action by the court." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Felzak v. Hruby, 226 Ill.2d 382, 392 (2007) (quoting Dixon v. Chicago & North Western Transportation Co., 151 Ill.2d 108, 117 (1992)). Application of this exception, which is narrowly construed, requires a clear showing of each of the following criteria: (1) the question presented is of a public nature; (2) an authoritative determination of the question is desirable for the future guidance of public officers; and (3) the question is likely to recur. Wisnasky-Bettorf v. Pierce, 2012 IL 111253, ¶ 12; Felzak, 226 Ill.2d at 393.

¶ 17 The State does not dispute that the appellate court correctly found that the first and third criteria are satisfied here. The State argues only that the second criterion—the desirability of an authoritative determination—is not satisfied. The State contends that the second criterion requires a disarray in the law or conflicting precedent on the question before the court, or some other circumstance, that would make an authoritative determination not merely useful to public officers, but "especially useful" to them. The State continues that the appellate court here was faced with a complete absence of precedent as to whether a juvenile may be committed to the Department for underage drinking and the law was thus not in disarray, and that no other circumstance exists which would require an authoritative ...


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