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People v. Laws

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fourth District

October 25, 2016

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TODD L. LAWS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from Circuit Court of Adams County No. 14CF232 Honorable Scott H. Walden, Judge Presiding.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE KNECHT delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Turner and Appleton concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          KNECHT PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant, Todd L. Laws, had a 2010 conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine. He now appeals his November 2014 conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine precursors in violation of section 120(a) of the Methamphetamine Control and Community Protection Act (Act) (720 ILCS 646/120(a) (West 2012)). On appeal, defendant argues the State failed to prove he knowingly purchased, owned, or otherwise possessed a product he knew to contain a methamphetamine precursor on November 18, 2013. The State argues it met its burden of proof because the statute requires the State to prove only knowledge of possession and not knowledge the substance contains a methamphetamine precursor. We affirm.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 During a stipulated bench trial on November 13, 2014, defendant was found guilty of one count of unlawful possession of methamphetamine precursors in violation of section 120(a) of the Act (Id.), a Class 4 felony. Pursuant to a negotiated agreement between defendant and the State, the court sentenced defendant to two years in prison and one year of mandatory supervised release.

         ¶ 4 Section 120(a) of the Act reads:

"Whenever any person pleads guilty to, is found guilty of, or is placed on supervision for an offense under this Act, in addition to any other penalty imposed by the court, no such person shall thereafter knowingly purchase, receive, own, or otherwise possess any substance or product containing a methamphetamine precursor as defined in Section 10 of this Act, without the methamphetamine precursor first being prescribed for the use of that person in the manner provided for the prescription of Schedule II controlled substances under Article III of the Illinois Controlled Substances Act." Id.

         A person convicted under section 120(a) is guilty of a Class 4 felony. 720 ILCS 646/120(b) (West 2012). Pseudoephedrine is a methamphetamine precursor as defined by the Act. 720 ILCS 646/10 (West 2012).

         ¶ 5 Prior to trial, defendant challenged the constitutionality of section 120(a) of the Act (720 ILCS 646/120(a) (West 2012)) in a motion to dismiss, arguing the statute violates the due process clauses of both the Illinois Constitution and the United States Constitution. Defendant argued because the statute does not require "a culpable mental state beyond mere knowledge, " it creates the potential for subjecting wholly innocent conduct to criminal punishment. In sum, defendant made an overbreadth argument. In support, defendant cited People v. Madrigal, 241 Ill.2d 463, 948 N.E.2d 591 (2011), which held unconstitutional a statute relating to identity theft because the statute did not contain a culpable mental state beyond mere knowledge, resulting in the potential for criminal punishment of wholly innocent conduct. Id. at 479, 948 N.E.2d at 600. The Madrigal court noted several cases striking down statutes as unconstitutional for the same reason. Id. at 467-68, 948 N.E.2d at 594 (citing People v. Carpenter, 228 Ill.2d 250, 888 N.E.2d 105 (2008); People v. Wright, 194 Ill.2d 1, 740 N.E.2d 755 (2000); In re K.C., 186 Ill.2d 542, 714 N.E.2d 491 (1999); People v. Zaremba, 158 Ill.2d 36, 630 N.E.2d 797 (1994); People v. Wick, 107 Ill.2d 62, 481 N.E.2d 676 (1985)). In these cases, the courts determined there was no rational relationship between the statute and the legislative purpose because the risk of subjecting wholly innocent conduct to criminal punishment attenuated the relationship, rendering the statute overbroad and therefore unconstitutional. E.g., Madrigal, 241 Ill.2d at 467-68, 474, 948 N.E.2d at 594, 598.

         ¶ 6 The State countered defendant's constitutional argument by analogizing section 120(a) of the Act to rules preventing felons from possessing a firearm or ammunition (720 ILCS 5/24-1.1 (West 2014)) or from voting while imprisoned (Ill. Const. 1970, art. III, § 2). The State argued section 120(a) of the Act, like the statute preventing felons from possessing a firearm or ammunition, merely limits a specific privilege to a limited class of citizens who have demonstrated a proclivity to abuse the privilege. The State also noted the prescription exception contained in section 120(a) is a further limitation on the statute's applicability, which weighs in favor of rationality. The State argued the relationship between the statute and the legislative objective was not attenuated in this case because these limitations prevent punishment of wholly innocent conduct. The court rejected defendant's constitutional argument and denied defendant's motion to dismiss, and the case proceeded to a stipulated bench trial.

         ¶ 7 The stipulated facts presented at the trial follow. The National Precursor Log Exchange (NPLEx) indicated that, on November 18, 2013, defendant purchased 12-hour Sudafed, a product containing pseudoephedrine, at a drugstore in Adams County. Surveillance footage showed a man purchasing the Sudafed, and Officer James Brown of the West Central Illinois Task Force would have identified defendant as the man in the surveillance footage. An employee of the drugstore would have testified if a person had a doctor's prescription to purchase a product containing pseudoephedrine, or any other methamphetamine precursor, the purchase would not appear in the NPLEx logs, which indicates defendant did not have a prescription to purchase Sudafed on November 18, 2013. Finally, the State would have introduced a certified copy of defendant's October 2010 conviction for unlawful possession of methamphetamine in violation of section 60(a) of the Act (720 ILCS 646/60(a) (West 2008)). Based upon this evidence, the trial court found defendant guilty of unlawful possession of a methamphetamine precursor in violation of section 120(a) of the Act (720 ILCS 646/120(a) (West 2012)) and concurred in the negotiated sentence of two years in prison and one year of mandatory supervised release. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 8 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 On appeal, defendant expressly states in his reply brief he does not challenge the constitutionality of section 120(a), but argues the statute must be read to require "criminal knowledge" because interpreting the statute to require mere knowledge could subject wholly innocent conduct to criminal punishment. Defendant also argues the proper construction of the statute requires both knowledge of possession and knowledge the substance contains a methamphetamine precursor. Defendant argues this dual-pronged knowledge requirement would satisfy a showing of the criminal knowledge he asserts is required by the statute. Defendant claims, because the stipulated facts did not establish he had a criminal purpose for the Sudafed or actual knowledge Sudafed contained a methamphetamine precursor, the State did not meet its burden to convict under the Act. Finally, defendant argues our court system disfavors interpreting statutes to impose absolute liability absent a clear intention by the legislature, which he asserts supports his argument the Act requires criminal knowledge ...


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