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People v. Brown

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

September 5, 2017

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
JOSEPH BROWN, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. No. 13 CR 14282, Honorable Rosemary Grant Higgins, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE MASON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lavin and Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          MASON, JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 Defendant Joseph Brown was convicted of possession of heroin with intent to deliver and sentenced as a Class X offender pursuant to section 5-4.5-95(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-95(b) (West 2012)). Brown was 20 years old at the time of the narcotics transaction at issue but turned 21 before his conviction. In People v. Brown, 2015 IL App (1st) 140508 (Brown I), we vacated Brown's sentence based upon our holding that the Class X sentencing statute required a defendant to be 21 years of age on the date of commission of the offense, not the date of conviction. Our supreme court reached the opposite conclusion in People v. Smith, 2016 IL 119659, and directed us to vacate Brown I.

         ¶ 2 We now address additional issues raised by Brown that we did not reach in Brown I because of our interpretation of the Class X statute. Brown argues that basing his eligibility for Class X sentencing on his age at the time of his conviction rather than at the time of the offense is a violation of (i) the prohibition against ex post facto laws, (ii) constitutional due process protections, and (iii) the constitutional right to equal protection. Although we are not unsympathetic to Brown's arguments, our supreme court has upheld similar sentencing schemes against claims of arbitrariness and due process violations. Accordingly, finding no constitutional infirmity in the statute, we affirm Brown's sentence.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 On July 3, 2013, 20-year-old Brown was arrested after an officer observed him engaging in the sale of heroin. On July 29, 2013, Brown was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. He turned 21 years old the next day.

         ¶ 5 Following a bench trial on November 18, 2013, Brown was found guilty of possessing more than 1 but less than 15 grams of heroin with intent to deliver, a Class 1 felony with a sentencing range of 4 to 15 years. Based on Brown's two prior convictions for Class 2 felonies, the trial court found that he was subject to mandatory Class X sentencing and sentenced him to six years of imprisonment, the minimum term for a Class X offender. 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-25(a) (West 2012) (sentencing range for a Class X felony is 6 to 30 years).

         ¶ 6 On appeal, Brown did not challenge his conviction, but he argued that he was ineligible for Class X sentencing based upon his age at the time of the offense. The Class X recidivist provision applies "[w]hen a defendant, over the age of 21 years, is convicted of a Class 1 or Class 2 felony" after having been convicted of two prior felonies of Class 2 or higher. 730 ILCS 5/5-4.5-95(b) (West 2012). Brown argued that "over the age of 21 years" referred to a defendant's age at the time the offense was committed, not at the time of conviction; alternately, he argued that measuring Class X eligibility by a defendant's age at the time of conviction would be unconstitutional.

         ¶ 7 In Brown I, 2015 IL App (1st) 140508, we agreed with Brown's interpretation of the statute and therefore did not reach the constitutional issues he raised. Following People v. Smith, 2016 IL 119659, ¶ 31, our supreme court directed us to vacate Brown I. We now address the constitutional issues raised by Brown, which were not raised in Smith.

         ¶ 8 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 9 Brown contends that applying the Class X recidivist provision based on a defendant's age on the date of conviction, rather than on the date the offense is committed, is unconstitutional because (i) it violates the prohibition against ex post facto laws, insofar as it punishes him for an event (his 21st birthday) occurring after the commission of the offense, (ii) it violates due process rights since there is no rational basis to increase a defendant's punishment based on his age at the time of conviction, and (iii) it violates equal protection principles since similarly-situated defendants may be subject to different sentencing ranges based upon whether they turn 21 years old before being convicted.

         ¶ 10 Although Brown did not raise these issues in the trial court, a party may challenge the constitutionality of a statute at any time. People v. Carpenter, 368 Ill.App.3d 288, 291 (2006) (defendant had right to challenge constitutionality of statute for the first time on appeal). All statutes are presumed constitutional, and the party challenging a statute bears the burden of rebutting that presumption. People v. Greco, 204 Ill.2d 400, 406 (2003). If reasonably possible, we will construe a statute in a way that upholds its constitutionality. Carpenter, 368 Ill.App.3d at 291.

         ¶ 11 Ex Post ...


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