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In re Danielle J.

Supreme Court of Illinois

December 19, 2013

In re DANIELLE J., a Minor (The People of the State of Illinois, Appellant and Cross-Appellee,
v.
Danielle J., Appellee and Cross-Appellant).

JUSTICE BURKE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Garman and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Kilbride, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

BURKE, JUSTICE.

¶ 1 In the course of Danielle J.'s delinquency proceedings, the circuit court of Cook County declared section 5-615(1) of the Juvenile Court Act of 1987 (the Act) (705 ILCS 405/5-615(1) (West 2010)) unconstitutional on its face and as applied to her. Section 5-615(1) provides that a juvenile who is not charged with committing first degree murder, a Class X felony or a forcible felony may obtain a continuance under supervision "(a) upon an admission or stipulation by the appropriate respondent or minor respondent of the facts supporting the petition and before proceeding to adjudication, or after hearing the evidence at the trial, and (b) in the absence of objection made in open court by the minor, his or her parent, guardian, or legal custodian, the minor's attorney or the State's Attorney." (Emphasis added.) The circuit court held that the statutory authority given to the State's Attorney under section 5-615(1)(b) to object to the grant of a continuance under supervision violates separation of powers, equal protection and due process guarantees. The court then entered an order, over the State's objection, granting respondent a continuance under supervision for one year.

¶ 2 For reasons that follow, we find that the trial court erred in reaching the issue of the statute's constitutionality. We vacate that finding and remand for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On January 27, 2010, the State filed a delinquency petition against respondent, 15-year-old Danielle J., charging her with having committed a misdemeanor battery in violation of section 12-3(a)(1) of the Criminal Code of 1961(720 ILCS 5/12-3(a)(1) (West 2010)). The petition alleged that Danielle J. was a delinquent minor because, on January 15, 2010, while at school, she knowingly caused bodily harm to her classmate, Jada M., by striking her in the face and chest.

¶ 5 On March 8, 2010, prior to the commencement of trial, the State offered to recommend a nine-month continuance under supervision in exchange for respondent's guilty plea. Respondent rejected the plea offer and the matter proceeded to trial. At trial, the State presented two witnesses—Jada M., the alleged victim, and Ivan Navarro, a security guard at Ace Technical Charter High School, where respondent and Jada attended classes.

¶ 6 Jada testified that on January 15, 2010, at about 10:30 a.m., she was in school and walking to a class when she was confronted by Alesha W., another student. Alesha was accompanied by three friends, one of whom was respondent. Jada testified that Alesha began to argue with her and then took a swing at her. When that happened, Navarro, one of the school's security guards, immediately intervened by stepping between her and Alesha. While Navarro was holding Alesha away from Jada, respondent came around the security guard and punched Jada in the face three to four times. At that point a second security guard arrived and took control of respondent.

¶ 7 Navarro testified similarly to Jada. He said that he saw Jada and Alesha begin to argue and immediately intervened by stepping between the two girls in an attempt to prevent them from hitting each other. Navarro also testified that while he was trying to keep Alesha and Jada apart, he looked to his left and saw that respondent was punching Jada in the face. Navarro testified that he saw respondent hit Jada three or four times with a closed fist before anyone was able to stop her. Navarro also testified that he did not see Jada hit respondent. After presenting this testimony, the State rested.

¶ 8 Defense counsel moved for a directed finding and the trial court denied the motion. Counsel then called respondent to the stand. In an effort to establish that she acted in self-defense, respondent testified as follows. On the morning of January 15, 2010, while attending Ace Technical Charter High School, respondent met with her friends, Alesha, Sierra, and Chastity, and walked with them to her next class. As they walked, Alesha told respondent that she wanted to "confront" Jada about something. Moments later, they saw Jada exit a classroom and start to walk in their direction. According to respondent, when Jada was about two to three feet away, Alesha started arguing with Jada. Respondent further testified that a security guard came up to Jada and Alesha as they were arguing in the corridor and stepped between them just as they both started throwing punches at each other. According to respondent, Jada was still throwing punches as the security guard held Alesha against the wall. Respondent claimed that one of Jada's punches passed by respondent's face, barely missing her. Respondent admitted that she was not sure whether Jada was swinging at her or Alesha. Nonetheless, she retaliated by punching Jada in the face. Respondent also testified that both she and Jada continued to fight with each other until another security guard stopped them.

¶ 9 After hearing closing arguments, the trial court rejected respondent's self-defense theory and found her guilty of misdemeanor battery. The court then continued the matter to April 8, 2010, "for social [history] and sentencing."

¶ 10 On April 8, 2010, the probation officer submitted his social history report to the court and recommended that respondent be sentenced to one year of probation. The State agreed with that recommendation, but suggested that respondent also be ordered to attend anger management classes. Defense counsel agreed that anger management classes would be appropriate, but asked if the court would consider "some sort of supervision" instead of probation.[1] The court responded:

"THE COURT: Mr. Tountas [defense counsel], a good point, except juvenile law doesn't allow me to consider.
And one of the problems I'm having with this case, and I'm taking it under consideration, is to [sic] whether to declare it unconstitutional as to Juvenile Court, whether or not after a trial I have to—basically what I have to do is get the State's permission to enter an order for supervision. That is not the case in the adult system.
MR. TOUNTAS: That's correct.
THE COURT: In the adult system, even after a trial a judge can enter an order of supervision.
The only way around that, I think, would be to find it unconstitutional as applied to the minor. Due process, I believe, might be one argument for that. But simply go ahead and—you're asking me to consider that?"

¶ 11 The trial court, finding that it was prevented from granting Danielle a continuance under supervision by the State's Attorney's objection pursuant to section 5-615(1)(b), continued the dispositional hearing and asked both defense counsel and the State to prepare legal memoranda regarding the constitutionality of the State's Attorney "approval provision" in section 5-615. A new court date was set for June 17, 2010.

¶ 12 At the June 17, 2010, hearing, defense counsel submitted a written motion asking the trial court to grant Danielle a continuance under supervision over the State's objection. Counsel asserted that the trial court had the authority to enter such an order due to the fact that the State's Attorney "approval provision" in section 5-615 of the Act is unconstitutional. Counsel also submitted a memorandum of law, as requested by the court, in support of his claim that the State's Attorney "approval provision" in section 5-615(1)(b) is unconstitutional. Respondent was not present at this hearing and the trial court entered no ruling because the State did not have an opportunity to prepare a written response to respondent's motion or the memorandum of law regarding the constitutionality of the statute, as the court had requested. The court accepted defense counsel's tender of the documents and ordered the State to submit its response and memorandum of law by June 25, 2010. The matter was reset for disposition on July 1, 2010.

¶ 13 Before ending the hearing, the court asked the assistant State's Attorneys who were present[2] about the training they received and the guidelines they followed when deciding whether to offer or object to supervision. It was explained that assistant State's Attorneys receive no formal training and are given no written guidelines on this specific topic. It was noted, however, that newer assistant State's Attorneys, or "third chairs, " generally receive training on plea offers from the "first chair" in the courtroom and this includes some instruction on when to offer supervision and when to oppose it.

¶ 14 The court asked the assistant State's Attorneys if they were aware of the statutory guidelines used by courts for deciding when to grant supervision in adult court.[3] In the course of that discussion, Assistant State's Attorney Pillsbury pointed out that in respondent's case a recommendation of nine months' supervision had been offered to the respondent prior to trial, but was rejected. Assistant State's Attorney Pillsbury then commented:

"And it's my understanding that in supervision, the idea of supervision is that the minor is put on supervision and then no finding will be entered if the supervision is term—is completed satisfactorily. In this case, there's already a finding entered, so the—I guess the point of supervision is moot. ...

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