By Nate Nieman
Walter Wells was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual assault and aggravated battery in a public place and was sentenced to three years in prison. Wells appealed, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA) violated his rights to substantive and procedural due process.
In People v. Wells, 2019 IL App (1st) 163247, the First District Appellate Court determined that the evidence was sufficient to convict Wells. Wells also argued that “the broad SORA regulations and restrictions imposed on him as a result of his conviction for a sexual offense violate his substantive due process rights and are facially unconstitutional.”
However, before reaching this issue, the court had to consider whether it had jurisdiction to review this issue after the State argued that “a defendant cannot raise a constitutional challenge to SORA on direct appeal from the criminal conviction that triggered application of SORA” after the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Bingham, 2018 IL 122008.
Bingham involved a defendant’s challenge to SORA registration that was triggered by a felony theft conviction. The Bingham court held “because the requirement to register under SORA was not encompassed within the trial court’s judgment of guilt on the theft conviction or any order of the trial court in that proceeding, the defendant’s constitutional challenge did not ask the reviewing court to take action available to it under [Ill. S. Ct. R.] 615(b).”
The Bingham court reasoned that “‘[a]llowing defendants to challenge the collateral consequences of a conviction on direct appeal would place a reviewing court in the position of ruling on the validity (or resolving the details) of regulatory programs administered by the state agencies and officials that are not parties to the action.’” Such challenges to SORA could, however, be brought in civil suits or on direct appeal from convictions resulting from violating SORA requirements.Finding that Wells’ obligation to register under SORA was a collateral consequence of his conviction that was not embodied in the trial court’s judgment, the court applied Bingham and held that it did not have jurisdiction to consider Wells’ constitutional challenges to SORA.