The Illinois Supreme Court handed down one opinion on Thursday, June 6. In People v. Clark, the court affirmed that a defendant’s bail bond violation constituted escape.

People v. Clark

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

Elizabeth Clark had a history of substance abuse. In October 2012, Clark pled guilty to burglary and unlawful use of a credit card and, pending sentencing, she was released for treatment. Ultimately, Clark was sentenced to 90 days in jail and 30 months of probation. Clark subsequently violated that probation twice. She was taken into custody and then released on a temporary recognizance bond to be transported directly to an inpatient treatment facility. Clark successfully completed inpatient treatment, and the bond was modified to allow her to enter a halfway house providing extended residential care following substance abuse treatment. The bond modification provided that if Clark was released or discharged from the halfway house for any reason, she was to immediately return to the custody of the Will County Jail using the most direct route of travel and without delay.

Ultimately, in June 2014, Clark left the halfway house but did not report directly to the jail. Her bond was increased, a warrant was issued, and her probation was again revoked. Clark surrendered several days later. She was sentenced to prison time on the underlying burglary and credit card convictions. The state also charged Clark with the offense of escape, pursuant to 720 ILCS 5/31-6(a). In the trial court, Clark argued that her bail bond violation did not constitute escape. She was convicted of escape at a stipulated bench trial. The appellate court reversed, but the Supreme Court then reversed the appellate court and affirmed the conviction.

The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the state must show a convicted felon was “in custody” to prove a violation of the failure-to-report provision of the escape statute contained in section 31-6(a).

Noting that the plain language of a statute is the most reliable indicator of the legislature’s intent, the court first looked at the language of the statute itself. Section 31-6(a) has two clauses: the first describes escape from custody and the second describes failure to report. That second clause does not include “custody” as an element. By the statute’s plain language, then, custody is not an element of escape by failing to report. Instead, the elements are simply that the person is a convicted felon and the person knowingly fails to report to a penal institution or to report for periodic imprisonment. Both elements were established here.

Despite finding that the statute was not ambiguous, and thus resorting to further aids of statutory construction was unnecessary, the court went on to address the legislative history of the escape statute. Specifically, the court discussed its prior decisions in People v. Simmons, 88 Ill. 2d 270 (1981), and People v. Marble, 91 Il. 2d 242 (1982). Both dealt with individuals’ failing to return from either a furlough or work release. While the version of the escape statute in effect at the time specifically described escape only as intentionally escaping from custody, the court in both cases found that escape was to be interpreted broadly. The defendants in both cases had their custodial status temporarily enlarged, but they were still “in custody” for purposes of the statute. Subsequently, the legislature amended the escape statute to include failure to return from furlough or work release provisions, and then amended again to fill a gap and include the failure to initially report to custody as another means of committing escape. The court found that the legislative history confirmed its interpretation of the plain language of the statute.

While Clark’s conduct could also have been charged as a violation of bail bond, that is a matter of prosecutorial discretion. Given her failed attempts at probation, the court concluded that the prosecutor’s decision to charge escape rather than a bail bond violation was not unreasonable.

Justice Burke authored a dissent, joined by Chief Justice Karmeier, and Justice Theis. The dissent would have found that, when read in context, the phrase “fails to report to a penal institution” is meant to apply only where a convicted defendant fails to report to serve his or her sentence. Here, defendant was ordered to return to the jail as a condition of the bond order, not a sentencing order. Therefore, her failure to report did not constitute the offense of escape because she had not been ordered to report to serve a sentence.