In its annual report to the General Assembly, the Illinois Supreme Court asked lawmakers to consider seven decisions it issued during 2020, including three in criminal cases.
The three criminal law cases pertain to three separate areas of the state’s criminal code: stalking, regulations for sex offenders in public spaces and obstruction of justice by providing false information.
Chief Justice Anne Burke wrote in a letter prefacing the report that summaries of the decisions “are offered for the General Assembly’s consideration.”
“In offering these cases, the Court is mindful of the distinct roles of the General Assembly and the Court. While we intend no intrusion upon the prerogatives of the General Assembly in the exercise of its authority, we do respectfully offer these cases for your consideration and look forward to the General Assembly’s continued responsiveness and support,” Burke wrote.
Under the Illinois Constitution, the court is required through a “judicial conference” to submit an annual report to the Legislature providing an update on the work of the courts and suggesting “improvements in the administration of justice.”
The annual report includes the decisions for “consideration,” as well as an update on the court’s strategic plan and goals related to the strategic plan.
State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who was chair of the Senate Criminal Law committee in the previous General Assembly, said it’s important for lawmakers to recognize areas in the law where the court has identified the need for additional clarification.
“I think these cases that the court has identified, they are ones specifically that the court has said, ‘here are areas where we think we can improve state government, and additionally, how it plays into the strategic plan, and the strategic vision of the courts,’” said Sims, who is a lawyer at Foley and Lardner LLP in Chicago.
Sims said he’s interested in looking at ways to “clean up” some of the language in a section of the stalking statute that was at issue in People v. Marshall Ashley.
In that case, Marshall Ashley was charged with stalking after sending text messages to his ex-girlfriend telling her he could “can make (her) suffer if (he) want(ed) to,” he “got guns,” and a picture of a gun.
The statute defines stalking as two or more threats that the charged person knows or should know would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress.
Ashley’s defense argued this section of the stalking statute is too broad because it criminalizes lawful threats covered by the First Amendment.
The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately decided that the Legislature meant “threats” to mean “true threats” of unlawful violence that are not protected by the First Amendment and concluded the statute does not infringe on free speech rights.
The second criminal case referenced in the annual report is People v. Patrick Legoo.
In that case, Legoo, a registered sex offender, was convicted of violating the section of the statute that prohibits sex offenders from being in or near a public park because he was at the park to retrieve his son.
Legoo argued the criminal statute forbidding sex offenders from being present in public parks conflicts directly with another section in the statute that allows for sex offenders who are parents or guardians of children to be present at a public park with their child.
The Illinois Supreme Court upheld his conviction. The court ruled that the section that provides an exception for parents and guardians who are sex offenders should be read entirely separate from the section prohibiting sex offenders from public parks.
The final criminal case referenced in the Supreme Court’s report is People v. Rasheed Casler.
In that case, Rasheed Casler was convicted of obstructing justice for furnishing false information when he gave police officers a fake name. Casler appealed his conviction, arguing that providing a false name — or “furnishing false information” — did not qualify as obstruction of justice in his case under the statute because that action did not stop his arrest from moving forward, or “materially impede” his arrest.
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed with Casler and reversed his conviction. The court decided an obstruction of justice conviction for “furnishing false information” requires the court to find the false information must have “materially impeded” the arrest or investigation.
This new element of requiring a material impediment to offenses of obstructing justice for furnishing false information was essentially added by the Supreme Court, said Sen. Steve McClure, R-Springfield.
“And they added something that is not what, in my view, the Legislature intended when it was passed and signed into law,” McClure, a former State’s Attorney and previously a member of the Senate Criminal Law committee, said in an interview with Capitol News Illinois.
“Writing legislation that's clear and not ambiguous is our job and the fact that the court has to clarify that is unfortunate. But it's also unfortunate when, in my opinion, the court then decides to also clarify something that didn't need to be clarified and add an element, which was totally, in my view, against what the plain language of the statute says…The fact that it was ambiguous is unfortunate, and I think it's something the Legislature needs to address.”
McClure said he plans to draft a bill to clarify the obstruction of justice statute in the upcoming session.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.