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People v. Plank

Supreme Court of Illinois

May 24, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
JOHN PLANK, Appellee.

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

          OPINION

          GARMAN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 The Illinois Vehicle Code prohibits anyone with a revoked driver's license from driving a "motor vehicle." 625 ILCS 5/6-303(a) (West 2012). However, someone with a revoked license may still drive a "low-speed gas bicycle" without violating this statute. Id. § 1-146. The Vehicle Code defines "low-speed gas bicycle" as a "2 or 3-wheeled device with fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than one horsepower, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour." Id. § 1-140.15.

         ¶ 2 When the State charged defendant John Plank with driving a motor vehicle with a revoked license, he claimed that the statute did not clearly tell him which vehicles he could and could not drive. Specifically he argued that the Vehicle Code's definition of "low-speed gas bicycle" was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. The circuit court agreed with defendant, dismissed the charge against him, and declared section 1-140.15 unconstitutional on its face. The State appealed directly to this court. We find that the Vehicle Code's definition of "low-speed gas bicycle" satisfies the requirements of due process of law, and we reverse the circuit court's decision and remand for further proceedings.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 Officer Judson Wienke saw defendant John Plank riding a motorized bicycle down a Douglas County road at a speed of 26 miles per hour. Officer Wienke would later testify that he believed that "with motorized bikes they are allowed to go up to 19 miles per hour. Once they hit 20, they have to have a valid driver's license, insurance, and registration." He signaled to defendant to stop, and defendant pulled over. Defendant admitted to Officer Wienke that his license was revoked.

         ¶ 5 The State charged defendant with violating section 6-303(a) of the Vehicle Code. Generally, driving a motor vehicle on state highways with a revoked license is a Class A misdemeanor. However, the State alleged that defendant's license had been revoked previously following a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI). After that DUI conviction, defendant was convicted for driving without a valid license in 2011, 2012, and 2013. This background led the State to increase the new charge to a Class 4 felony, requiring at least 180 days' incarceration. Id. § 6-303(d-3).

         ¶ 6 The circuit court did not conduct any evidentiary hearings, so Officer Wienke's testimony at the preliminary hearing provides the only factual record. He described defendant's bicycle as powered by "a weed-eater motor" and noted that it was not registered in Illinois. Although the bicycle had pedals in addition to its gasoline motor, Officer Wienke testified that he did not see defendant pedaling.

         ¶ 7 Defendant moved to dismiss the charge, arguing that the Vehicle Code's definition of "low-speed gas bicycle" was unconstitutionally vague. He claimed both that the definition fails to provide persons of ordinary intelligence with a reasonable opportunity to understand what is prohibited and that the definition encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement. The circuit court agreed and dismissed the charge. The court noted that the definition refers to a "paved level surface" but no surface is perfectly level. The definition also relies on the vehicle's maximum speed with a driver who weighs 170 pounds. The circuit court criticized this aspect of the statute, repeating defendant's claim that a police officer "would have to have a scale in their squad car in order to weigh the individual as soon as they pulled them over."

         ¶ 8 The State filed a motion to reconsider, which the circuit court denied. At the State's request, the court also made explicit findings under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 18 (eff. Sept. 1, 2006). However, the court neglected to specify whether it found the statute unconstitutional as applied or on its face. The State appealed, and this court remanded to the circuit court so that it could clarify its ruling. The circuit court made its findings explicit, and it found section 1-140.15 unconstitutional on its face. This appeal followed.

         ¶ 9 ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 When an Illinois circuit court finds a statute unconstitutional, Illinois Supreme Court Rule 603 (eff. Feb. 6, 2013) gives this court jurisdiction over the appeal. Whether a statute violates the United States or Illinois Constitution is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. People v. Madrigal, 241 Ill.2d 463, 466 (2011). Statutes are presumed to be constitutional, and "[t]o overcome this presumption, the party challenging the statute must clearly establish that it violates the constitution." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) People v. Rizzo, 2016 IL 118599, ¶ 23.

         ¶ 11 The State alleged that defendant violated section 6-303(a) of the Vehicle Code, which states that "any person who drives or is in actual physical control of a motor vehicle on any highway of this State at a time when such person's driver's license, permit or privilege to do so or the privilege to obtain a driver's license or permit is revoked *** shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor." 625 ILCS 5/6-303(a) (West 2012). The term "motor vehicle" includes "[e]very vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails, except for vehicles moved solely by human power, motorized wheelchairs, low-speed electric bicycles, and low-speed gas bicycles." (Emphasis added.) Id. § 1-146. Finally, "low-speed gas bicycle" is defined as a "2 or 3-wheeled device with fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than one horsepower, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour." Id. § 1-140.15.

         ¶ 12 The circuit court agreed with defendant that this definition of "low-speed gas bicycle" was unconstitutionally vague and, thus, violated the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. U.S. Const., amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2. A statutory provision can be too vague to satisfy the requirements of due process of law in two ways: first, the statute does not provide individuals of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct the law prohibits, or second, the statute does not provide law enforcement with reasonable standards to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement. City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 56 (1999); Bartlow v. Costigan, 2014 IL 115152, ¶ 40. By allowing government actors to enforce only those statutes with definite content, the vagueness doctrine protects the rule of law from potential abuses of discretion. John C. Jeffries, Jr., Legality, Vagueness, and the ...


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