Cases Pending Highlights Criminal Cases to be Heard in Illinois Supreme Court's January Term

January 04, 2021 5:46 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

The Illinois Supreme Court's January Term begins Tuesday, January 12, 2021.  Oral arguments are scheduled for January 12, 13 and 14, 2021.  A total of 11 cases will be heard -- 5 civil and 6 criminal.  The following criminal cases are scheduled for argument this Term:

January 12, 2021

People v. Charles Wise, No. 125392

People v. Cordell Bass, No. 125434

People v. Charles Palmer, No. 125621

People v. Chaleah Burge, No. 125642

January 13, 2021

People v. Recardo Johnson, No. 125738

In re Br. M., No. 125969

Below is a summary for one of those cases, People v. Charles Wise.  Summaries for this case and others pending in the Illinois Supreme Court can be found in our Cases Pending publication, available to ALA members on the ALA’s website. 

People v. Charles Wise, No. 125392

The issue in this case is whether the appellate court erred in vacating defendant’s conviction for unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon upon concluding that the State failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that firearm found in back seat of minivan he was driving was “on or about his person” as required by 720 ILCS 5/24-1.1(a) because, although he constructively possessed it, it was not within his reach.

The People, as appellant, assert several reasons why the offense of unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon should include constructive possession of a weapon in a vehicle.  First, unlike the offenses of unlawful use of a weapon and aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, the offense of unlawful possession of a weapon is not focused on the location of the possession but on possession of weapons by felons, so it would be absurd to exclude constructive possession in a weapon in a vehicle from the latter offense.  Further, the "on or about his person" should not be construed as signifying "immediately accessible" because the legislature has specified immediate accessibility in other provisions by using exactly that language.  Additionally, for decades before the decision below, the appellate court construed the offense to include constructive possession in vehicles, so the legislature acquiesced to that interpretation.  Finally, the appellate court's reasoning supporting its contrary conclusion failed to consider the relevant UUW scheme as a whole.

In response, defendant contends that the plain and unambiguous meaning of "on or about his person" in the provision does not include constructive possession of a weapon not within arm's reach, so it must be given effect (and the State's arguments relying on sources beyond statutory language should not even be considered).  Even if considered, applying statutory construction principles supports defendant's interpretation.  By using different language for this offense, the legislature intended a different result compared to the UUW and AUUW offenses.  In addition, the People's interpretation would render the phrase in question superfluous.  Further, that same phrase has been interpreted to mean within arm's reach in the context of the armed violence statute.  Finally, defendant's construction still serves the purpose of protecting the public.  To the extent there is uncertainty or ambiguity on this point, the rule of lenity requires accepting defendant's construction.

Appellate Court Decision: 2019 IL App (3d) 170252.  McDade, J., with O'Brien, J., concurring; Carter, J., dissenting.

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