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People v. Vara

Supreme Court of Illinois

June 1, 2018

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Appellant,
v.
RICARDO VARA, Appellee.

          FREEMAN JUSTICE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Kilbride, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion. Chief Justice Karmeier dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Thomas dissented, with opinion, joined by Chief Justice Karmeier.

          OPINION

          FREEMAN JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 Following a bench trial in the circuit court of Stephenson County, defendant Ricardo Vara was convicted of child pornography (720 ILCS 5/11-20.1(a)(6)(vii) (West 2012)). The circuit court sentenced defendant to serve a three-year term of imprisonment and imposed certain fines mandated by various statutory provisions. Thereafter, the clerk of the circuit court included several entries in the electronic accounts receivable record pertaining to defendant's conviction. Several of those data entries indicated that defendant was obligated to pay other mandatory fines not specified in the circuit court's judgment. On appeal, defendant challenged the data entries recorded by the circuit clerk that purported to assess additional fines not imposed by the circuit court. The appellate court vacated the challenged data entries and rejected the State's argument that the appellate court had authority to order imposition of the mandatory fines that were not imposed by the circuit court. 2016 IL App (2d) 140848. This court allowed the State's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015). For the reasons that follow, we find that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review the clerk's recording of fines that were not ordered by the circuit court. Accordingly, we vacate the judgment of the appellate court and dismiss the appeal.

         ¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 After a bench trial, defendant was convicted of child pornography (720 ILCS 5/11-20.1(a)(6) (West 2012)). At the sentencing hearing on August 8, 2014, the circuit court sentenced defendant on that conviction and on another conviction resulting from a separate prosecution. With regard to the child pornography conviction, the court ordered defendant to serve three years in prison and imposed the following mandatory fines: a $1000 child pornography fine (id. § 11-20.1(c)), a $500 sex offender fine (730 ILCS 5/5-9-1.15 (West 2012)), and a $500 additional child pornography fine (id. § 5-9-1.14).[1] The court also imposed a $200 fine that was described at the sentencing hearing as a "sheriff's office fine" but was referenced in the written sentencing order as a "sexual assault fine" (id. § 5-9-1.7).

         ¶ 4 Defendant filed a motion to reduce his sentence but did not dispute the validity of the fines imposed by the circuit court. Defendant's motion was denied, and he timely filed a notice of appeal on August 22, 2014. The record on appeal was filed in October 2014.

         ¶ 5 In April 2016, the appellate court granted defendant leave to supplement the record to include a document titled "payment status information, " which bears the seal of the circuit court of Stephenson County. A certification on the payment status information sheet is signed by a deputy circuit clerk and is dated April 13, 2016, approximately 18 months after entry of the circuit court's final judgment. The payment status information sheet lists entries for fees charged to defendant as well as mandatory fines, several of which were not included in the circuit court's judgment. According to the payment status information sheet, the following fines and fees were charged to defendant: "Court" ($50), "Youth Diversion" ($5), "Violent Crime" ($100), "Lump Sum Surcharge" ($250), "Sexual Assault" ($200), "Sex Offender Regis" ($500), "Medical Costs" ($10), "State Police Ops" ($15), "Child Pornography" ($495), and "Clerk Op Deduction" ($5).

         ¶ 6 On appeal, defendant did not attack his conviction, prison sentence, or the monetary sanctions imposed by the circuit court. His sole contention was that the fine assessments that were detailed in the payment status information sheet but not referenced by the court were invalid and should be vacated. Defendant argued that, although the challenged fines were mandated by statute, they were void because the circuit clerk lacked the authority to levy fines. The State agreed that the fines purportedly assessed by the circuit clerk were invalid but requested that the appellate court either impose the mandatory fines or remand to the circuit court with instructions to do so.

         ¶ 7 The appellate court vacated the fines challenged by defendant and refused the State's request that it impose the fines or order the circuit court to do so on remand. 2016 IL App (2d) 140848, ¶¶ 8-10, 37. The appellate court explained that, pursuant to this court's decision in People v. Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, it did not have authority to address the State's request for correction of a sentence that does not comply with the statutory requirements. 2016 IL App (2d) 140848, ¶¶ 25, 37.

         ¶ 8 The State appeals to this court.

         ¶ 9 II. ANALYSIS

         ¶ 10 In this court, the State attacks the appellate court's judgment on several grounds. First, the State contends that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review the circuit court clerk's recording of mandatory fines that were not included as part of the court's final judgment. In the alternative, the State asserts that, if the appellate court had jurisdiction, that court had authority to impose the mandatory fines or remand the cause to the circuit court with instructions to impose the fines as required by statute. The State also claims that the appellate court erred in vacating the $200 sexual assault fine identified in the circuit court's written sentencing order. Finally, the State argues that in resolving this appeal we should amend our rules to allow for correction of statutorily unauthorized sentences at any time by motion in the circuit court.

         ¶ 11 Defendant counters that the appellate court had jurisdiction to vacate the unauthorized fines assessed by the clerk of the circuit court but lacked the authority to impose the mandatory fines or to order that the circuit court do so on remand. He further argues that the appellate court correctly vacated the $200 sexual assault fine referenced on the circuit clerk's payment status information sheet because the trial judge did not impose that fine at the sentencing hearing. Lastly, defendant opposes the State's request for amendment of our rules in disposing of this appeal because no compelling reason justifies suspension of our typical rulemaking procedure.

         ¶ 12 At the outset, we note that no jurisdictional defect was asserted in the appellate court. However, a reviewing court is obligated to ascertain its jurisdiction before proceeding in a cause of action, regardless of whether the issue has been raised by either party. Secura Insurance Co. v. Illinois Farmers Insurance Co., 232 Ill.2d 209, 213 (2009) (citing People v. Smith, 228 Ill.2d 95, 106 (2008), and R.W. Dunteman Co. v. C/G Enterprises, Inc., 181 Ill.2d 153, 159 (1998)). Jurisdiction cannot be conferred by agreement of the parties, and a lack of appellate jurisdiction is not subject to forfeiture. People v. Holmes, 235 Ill.2d 59, 66 (2009); Franson v. Micelli, 172 Ill.2d 352, 355 (1996); Brauer Machine & Supply Co. v. Parkhill Truck Co., 383 Ill. 569, 573 (1943). Consequently, we begin by addressing the State's argument that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review the fines recorded by the circuit clerk on the payment status information sheet. The determination of whether the appellate court had jurisdiction to consider an appeal is a question of law, which we review de novo. People v. Shinaul, 2017 IL 120162, ¶ 8.

         ¶ 13 Article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution confers on the appellate court jurisdiction to review final judgments entered by the circuit court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 6; Shinaul, 2017 IL 120162, ¶ 10. A final judgment "determines the litigation on the merits such that the only thing remaining is to proceed with execution of judgment." Shinaul, 2017 IL 120162, ¶ 10; People v. Pawlaczyk, 189 Ill.2d 177, 186 (2000). The rendition of a judgment is a judicial act, performed by the court at the time it makes its pronouncement. In re Estate of Young, 414 Ill. 525, 533 (1953) (citing People ex rel. Waite v. Bristow, 391 Ill. 101 (1945), and Smyth v. Fargo, 307 Ill. 300 (1923)).

         ¶ 14 In a criminal case, the final judgment is the sentence. People v. Allen, 71 Ill.2d 378, 381 (1978). The imposition of a criminal sentence is the judicial act that comprises the judgment of the court. Id. (citing People v. Moran, 342 Ill. 478 (1930)). A fine constitutes a pecuniary punishment imposed on a person guilty of committing an offense. People v. Graves, 235 Ill.2d 244, 250 (2009); People v. Jones, 223 Ill.2d 569, 581 (2006). Because the imposition of a fine as part of a criminal sentence is a judicial function, it can be performed only by a judge of the circuit court. See Allen, 71 Ill.2d at 381; Moran, 342 Ill. at 480.

         ¶ 15 The Illinois Constitution also provides that clerks of courts are nonjudicial officers of the court. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, § 18; Walker v. McGuire, 2015 IL 117138, ¶ 30 (citing Drury v. County of McLean, 89 Ill.2d 417, 423 (1982)); see also Hall v. Marks, 34 Ill. 358, 363 (1864). As such, a circuit clerk performs no adjudicative or quasi-judicial function and is, instead, " 'an officer of the court who has charge of the clerical part of its business.' " Walker, 2015 IL 117138, ¶ 30 (quoting People ex rel. Vanderburg v. Brady, 275 Ill. 261, 262 (1916)); see also County of Kane v. Carlson, 116 Ill.2d 186, 200-01 (1987).

         ¶ 16 Indeed, the clerical responsibilities of circuit clerks have been circumscribed by statute since 1845. See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1845, ch. 29, § 35. Under our current statute, the Clerks of Courts Act (Act) (705 ILCS 105/1 et seq. (West 2016)), the duties of court clerks include the obligation to preserve all the files and papers of their respective courts and to keep complete records of all the proceedings and determinations thereof. Id. § 13. In addition, section 14 of the Act specifically provides that circuit clerks "shall enter of record all judgments and orders of their respective courts, as soon after the rendition or making thereof as practicable." Id. § 14.

         ¶ 17 Acknowledging the sharp divide between the adjudicative role of the court and the clerical function of a circuit clerk, this court has held:

" '[T]here is a well-recognized distinction between rendering a judgment and entering a judgment. The former is the judicial act of the court in pronouncing its ruling or finding in the controversy; the latter is the ministerial act of the clerk in preserving the record of that decision.' " Williams v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2015 IL 117444, ¶ 39 (quoting Freeport Motor Casualty Co. v. Tharp, 406 Ill. 295, 299 (1950)).

See also Cirro Wrecking Co. v. Roppolo, 153 Ill.2d 6, 16 (1992) (holding that the rendition of a judgment is independent from the ministerial function of its entry by the circuit clerk); Bristow, 391 Ill. at 114 (same); Smyth, 307 Ill. at 305-06 (same); People ex rel. Isaacs v. Johnson, 26 Ill.2d 268, 273-74 (1962) (declaring certain tax laws unconstitutional because they directed the circuit clerk to enter judgments).

         ¶ 18 Pursuant to the Illinois Constitution, the terms of the Act, and our long-standing precedent, a circuit clerk is obligated to record the ruling of the court and has no authority to enter a judgment on his or her volition. See Hall, 34 Ill. at 363 (holding that a circuit clerk possesses no power to render a judgment and is only authorized to enter a judgment pursuant to the direction of the court); see also In re Estate of Young, 414 Ill. at 533-34 (holding that the judgment recorded by the clerk must conform to the judgment pronounced by the court and that "[a]ny other rule would permit the clerk to exercise a judicial function beyond his normal ministerial activity"); People ex rel. Pardridge v. Windes, 275 Ill. 108, 113 (1916) (holding that circuit clerk's entry of the court's orders is subject to judicial control and "[h]e is not privileged to enter orders as he sees fit, contrary to the direction of the court"). Thus, circuit clerks are duty bound to record the judgment issued by the court and must do so in a manner that accurately reflects the intention of the court. See Bristow, 391 Ill. at 109-10.

         ¶ 19 The judgment of the court is shown by the record kept by the circuit clerk. People v. Kamrowski, 412 Ill. 383, 387 (1952); Bristow, 391 Ill. at 109-10; People ex rel. Holbrook v. Petit, 266 Ill. 628, 631-32 (1915). Any action taken by a circuit clerk that purports to alter the judgment of the court is invalid. See Hall, 34 Ill. at 363. Because the imposition of a sentence is reserved exclusively for the judiciary, a circuit clerk has no authority to assess a criminal fine that was not imposed by the court. Allen, 71 Ill.2d at 381; Moran, 342 Ill. at 480.

         ¶ 20 In applying these principles to the question of appellate jurisdiction here, it is essential to bear in mind what defendant challenged in his appeal and what he did not. Defendant sought relief as to certain fines that were recorded by the circuit clerk on the payment status information sheet but were not referenced by the circuit court. Defendant did not attack the validity of his conviction, his prison sentence, or the fines imposed by the circuit court at the time of sentencing. Thus, this case presents the anomalous circumstance in which a defendant has filed an appeal seeking to uphold the judgment entered by the circuit court.

         ¶ 21 The circuit court's judgment is reflected by the report of proceedings and the written sentencing order signed by the trial judge, which demonstrate that the court imposed four monetary sanctions on defendant: a fine of $1000, two fines of $500 each, and a fine of $200. The data entries referencing other fines not imposed by the court did not accurately reflect the judgment that was entered at the time of sentencing.

         ¶ 22 In addition, the payment status information sheet, dated approximately 18 months after the court's final judgment, is a document that was created outside the record of the trial court proceedings. Although defendant was granted leave to include it as a "supplement" to the record, that leave was not warranted. Illinois Supreme Court Rule 608 (eff. July 1, 2017) details the items that are to be included in the record on appeal in a criminal case. The payment status information sheet is not part of the common-law record or the report of proceedings of defendant's criminal prosecution. Under Illinois Supreme Court Rule 329 (eff. Jan. 1, 2006), [2] a supplemental record may be filed to correct material omissions or inaccuracies or if the record is insufficient to present fully and fairly the question involved. Amendment of the record is not to be used as a device for inserting extraneous materials into the record on appeal. The payment status information sheet at issue here cannot be characterized as a "material omission" or something that should have been included in the record of the proceedings before the circuit court.

         ¶ 23 Because the circuit clerk had no authority to levy any fines against defendant, the recording of the additional fines was invalid and unenforceable. However, the fact that the clerk's action was improper does not mean that defendant can challenge the unauthorized fines through the appeal process. The appellate court is constitutionally vested with jurisdiction to review final judgments entered by circuit courts. The recording of a fine is a clerical, ministerial function and is not a judgment-void or otherwise. Therefore, the improper recording of a fine is not subject to direct review by the appellate court. Accordingly, we agree with the State that the appellate court lacked jurisdiction to review the clerk's recording of mandatory fines that were not included as part of the circuit court's final judgment.

         ¶ 24 In reaching this conclusion, we reject defendant's argument based on our 2012 decision in People v. Gutierrez, 2012 IL 111590. In that case, the defendant filed an appeal challenging the circuit clerk's assessment of a public defender fee, which could only be imposed by the trial court after notice and a hearing. Id. ¶¶ 3, 16, 19. In doing so, the defendant asserted that the clerk had acted beyond its authority in imposing the fee and characterized the clerk's action as an "order" that was "void." Id. ¶ 14. This court accepted the defendant's characterization of the circuit clerk's action and concluded that the appellate court had jurisdiction to consider whether the public defender fee was improperly imposed. Id. That conclusion was premised on what had been termed the "void sentence rule, " which allowed a statutorily unauthorized sentence to be attacked at any time or in any court. Id. (citing People v. Thompson, 209 Ill.2d 19, 25 (2004)). At that time, the void sentence rule had been understood to apply to the unauthorized assessment of a fine or fee by a circuit clerk. Id. (citing People v. Shaw, 386 Ill.App.3d 704, 710-11 (2008)). Appellate review of such action was considered to be a pragmatic and efficient means of ensuring that criminal sentences complied with statutory mandates. Id. ¶ 14 n.1.

         ¶ 25 However, the legal landscape has changed dramatically since Gutierrez was decided. In Castleberry, 2015 IL 116916, ¶ 18, we abolished the void sentence rule as unsound because it could not be reconciled with the constitutional grant of jurisdiction and was inconsistent with our precedent in civil appeals. The elimination of the void sentence rule substantially undermined the analytical foundation of the jurisdictional discussion in Gutierrez. After we issued our decision in Castleberry, this court discussed the decision in Gutierrez. In People v. Hardman, 2017 IL 121453, ¶ 55, we specifically recognized that where the circuit clerk purported to assess a public defender fee, which could only be imposed by a court after a hearing, "there was no circuit court order" requiring the fee and "the appellate court could not remand for a hearing on an order that did not exist." Thus, our decision in Hardman recognized the fundamental distinction between a court order and the ministerial action of a circuit clerk. Id. In light of our recent jurisprudence, defendant's reliance on Gutierrez is misplaced.

         ¶ 26 Our dissenting colleagues disagree, and they rely on section 16(5) of the Act (705 ILCS 105/16(5) (West 2012)) as support for the assertion that the clerk's assessments are considered part of the judgment. Infra ¶¶ 44-45, 63-69, 86. That assertion has no purchase within the context of this case. Section 16(5), which sets forth the circuit clerk's responsibility for maintenance of a "fee book, " pertains exclusively to the assessment of fees. Fines are not mentioned anywhere in that provision, and there is no indication from its language that the information recorded in the "fee book" would ever include the imposition of a criminal fine. Given that fees and fines are substantively different (Jones, 223 Ill.2d at 581), it cannot be said that the language of section 16(5) applies to criminal fines. Therefore, section 16(5) has no bearing here.

         ¶ 27 Reliance on section 16(5) is problematic for other reasons as well. First, if section 16(5) is interpreted as our dissenting colleagues suggest, it would defeat the very crux of defendant's argument-which is that certain fines included on the payment status information sheet were invalid because they were not part of the court's final judgment. In addition, such interpretation necessarily equates a clerk's recording of a fine with a judicial act. That notion must be rejected for the obvious reason that it would amount to a grant of judicial power to circuit clerks.

         ¶ 28 Moreover, the application of section 16(5) here is inconsistent with the reasoning expressed in Gutierrez, which found appellate jurisdiction to address an argument that the circuit clerk acted beyond its authority in assessing a public defender fee, rendering the fee "void." Gutierrez, 2012 IL 111590, ¶ 14. The "voidness" of the clerk's action in Gutierrez was based on the fact that the clerk lacked authority to impose such a fee. Id. But the fundamental reason that the clerk's action was unauthorized was because the public defender fee had not been ordered by the circuit court-i.e., the fee was not part of the court's judgment. If the public defender fee at issue in Gutierrez had been included as part of the judgment entered by the circuit court, the clerk's recording of that fee would have been authorized-indeed, it would have been mandatory. See 705 ILCS 105/14 (West 2012); Bristow, 391 Ill. at 109-10. Acceptance of the dissenting ...


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