Appeal from Circuit Court of Vermilion County. No. 13CF90. Honorable Craig H. DeArmond, Judge Presiding.
Pope, Presiding Justice
and Steigmann, Justice concurred in the judgment and opinion.
[¶1] In a bench trial, the trial court found defendant, Stanley A. Dye, guilty of threatening a public official (720 ILCS 5/12-9 (West 2012)). The court sentenced him to imprisonment for three years. He appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence. We reverse the trial court's judgment because when we look at the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, we conclude it would be impossible for any rational trier of fact to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant made a " true threat" within the meaning of Virginia v. Black, 538 U.S. 343, 359-60, 123 S.Ct. 1536, 155 L.Ed.2d 535 (2003). His threat, " 'I'm gonna get you,'" was ambiguous as to whether the intended meaning was violent retribution or nonviolent retribution, and nothing about the context of the threat could reasonably resolve the ambiguity.
[¶2] I. BACKGROUND
[¶3] On February 7, 2013, defendant had an appointment with his attorney, Jacqueline Lacy, the Vermilion County public defender. The appointment was in her office, on the third floor of the courthouse. In their meeting, Lacy told him she had some bad news: because he had been less than forthright with her, she had subpoenaed some documents, and as a result, she had inadvertently uncovered evidence that was harmful to his case. The State would receive a copy of the subpoenaed documents. Evidently, the documents pertained to the chemical testing of a crack pipe.
[¶4] Defendant became irate and demanded that Lacy have the crack pipe retested. She declined to do so. He raised his voice. She raised her voice. He threatened to complain about her to Judge DeArmond and request a different attorney. She said to go ahead, but she predicted that Judge DeArmond would decline to appoint him a different attorney. He accused her of selling him out and working for the State. She told him he " needed to" leave her office. He did so.
[¶5] As he was exiting through the waiting room, defendant told Lacy, two or three times, " 'I'm gonna get you.'" He pointed at her or at the floor as he said those words. Lacy asked him, " 'Are you fucking threatening me?'" According to defendant's testimony, he replied, " 'No, no. I ain't threatening you.'" A paralegal who worked in the public defender's office, Andrew Bower, had stepped between defendant and Lacy because of " the way [defendant] was standing, his mannerisms, how aggressive he was with his speech, his posture." Bower put his hand on defendant's shoulder, to guide him out the door and into the hall. Defendant ignored him and left.
[¶6] Lacy, who was scared, trembling, and on the verge of tears, called the police.
[¶7] II. ANALYSIS
[¶8] Various statutes, including section 12-9 of the Criminal Code of 2012 (720 ILCS 5/12-9 (West 2012)), criminalize the making of threats. From the Supreme Court's decision in Watts v. United States, 394 U.S. 705, 708, 89 S.Ct. 1399, 22 L.Ed.2d 664 (1969), the appellate court has derived the rule that if the State charges the defendant with making a threat of violence, the threat must be a " true threat," or else the prosecution would violate the first amendment (U.S. Const., amend. I), made applicable to the states by the fourteenth amendment (U.S. Const., amend. XIV; Black, 538 U.S. at 358). People v. Sucic, 401 Ill.App.3d 492, 502-03, 928 N.E.2d 1231, 340 Ill.Dec. 634 (2010) (citing W ...