A leading appellate attorney reviews the Illinois Supreme Court opinion handed down Thursday, October 6.

In re Kelan W., 2022 IL 128031

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

In August 2020, Kelan W. was in Missouri with an adult accomplice when they allegedly unlawfully took a vehicle from another individual and then drove the vehicle across the river into Illinois where they were apprehended. Kelan was 16 years old and resided in Illinois with his mother at the time.

The State subsequently filed a delinquency petition against Kelan, alleging offenses based on conduct which occurred in Illinois and conduct which occurred in Missouri. As to the Missouri-based conduct, the petition alleged in Count I that the minor took a motor vehicle by force or threat of force, while armed with a firearm, in violation of 720 ILCS 5/18-4(a) (aggravated vehicular hijacking) and Missouri Revised Statute § 570.023 (robbery, first degree). Counts II through IV alleged only Illinois-based conduct in violation of Illinois law.

At issue before the Illinois Supreme Court was whether, under Section 5-120 of the Juvenile Court Act (705 ILCS 405/5-120), the State may bring a delinquency petition against a minor for conduct committed entirely outside of Illinois. Section 5-120 provides in relevant part: “Proceedings may be instituted under the provisions of the Article concerning any minor who prior to his or her 18th birthday has violated or attempted to violate, regardless of where the act occurred, any federal, State, county or municipal law or ordinance.”

Looking to the plain language of the statute, the Court held that it unambiguously authorizes the State to initiate delinquency proceedings in Illinois when a minor engages in unlawful conduct in another State. In reaching this conclusion, the Court found significant the legislature’s choice of the word “any” prior to “federal, State, county or municipal law,” signaling an intent to allow Illinois to prosecute delinquency proceedings for violation of another state’s laws. Further, the statute expressly excludes any geographic restriction by allowing for the initiation of delinquency proceedings, “regardless of where the [unlawful conduct] occurred,” indicating an intent to extend the reach of Illinois’s delinquency proceedings.

In arriving at this conclusion, the Court rejected the minor’s argument that the capitalization of “State” in the statute was meant to refer to the State of Illinois and not any other state. Likewise, the Court disagreed that limits on adult criminal prosecutions to only those acts committed wholly or partly within Illinois also restricted the availability of delinquency proceedings under the Juvenile Court Act. The statutory limits on adult criminal jurisdiction do not bestow any procedural rights which must also apply to juveniles in delinquency proceedings.

The Court also noted that the rehabilitative purpose of the Act is well-served by allowing Illinois to initiate delinquency proceedings in cases involving minors who reside here. Illinois is likely to be in a better position than another state to ensure that the minor has the family and community supports needed. Further, providing necessary services and programs in the minor’s home state is less disruptive than subjecting the minor to juvenile delinquency proceedings in another state.

Chief Justice Burke authored a special concurrence, agreeing with the majority’s result but disagreeing with portions of the majority’s reasoning. Specifically, Chief Justice Burke would have held that the use of the capitalized word “State” was meant to refer only to the State of Illinois, consistent with the usage principle contained in the Court’s own style manual. Thus, while delinquency proceedings could be initiated in Illinois for conduct committed in another state, that conduct still would have to be a violation of Illinois law. Chief Justice Burke noted that this construction avoids the possibility of a juvenile being subject to Illinois delinquency proceedings for conduct deemed unlawful by another State’s laws even if that conduct is not criminal in Illinois. Here, the Illinois minor’s alleged conduct in Missouri violated Illinois’s aggravated vehicular hijacking statute, and thus delinquency proceedings were properly initiated here.