Our panel of leading appellate attorneys reviews the opinions handed down Thursday, April 4, 2024, by the Illinois Supreme Court.

People v. Johanson, 2024 IL 129425

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

Korem Johanson was convicted of predatory criminal sexual assault of a child based on an allegation that he caused his sex organ (penis) to make contact with the hand of the minor victim for the purpose of his sexual gratification or arousal. The minor’s trial testimony was that she touched Johanson’s penis two or three times when she was eight years old. At issue before the Illinois Supreme Court was whether Section (a)(1) of the predatory criminal sexual assault statute and Section (c)(1) of the aggravated criminal sexual abuse statute have identical elements but are subject to different penalties such that a proportionate penalties clause violation must be found.

Under 720 ILCS 5/11-1.40(a)(1), a person commits predatory criminal sexual assault of a child if that person is at least 17 years old and “commits an act of contact, however slight, between the sex organ or anus of one person and the part of the body of another for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the victim or the accused, or an act of sexual penetration” and the victim is less than 13 years old. Predatory criminal sexual assault of a child under Section (a)(1) is a Class X felony.

Under 720 ILCS 5/11-1.60(c)(1)(i), a person commits aggravated criminal sexual abuse if that person is at least 17 years old and commits an act of sexual conduct with a victim who less than 13 years old. “Sexual conduct” is defined as:

any knowing touching or fondling by the victim or the accused, either directly or through clothing, of the sex organs, anus, or breast of the victim or the accused, or any part of the body of a child under 13 years of age, or any transfer or transmission of semen by the accused upon any part of the clothed or unclothed body of the victim, for the purpose of sexual gratification or arousal of the victim or the accused.

720 ILCS 5/11-0.1. Aggravated criminal sexual abuse under section (c)(1) is a Class 2 felony.

Pursuant to the proportionate penalties clause of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const., Art. I, §11), where different offenses contain identical elements but different penalties, the penalties are unconstitutionally disproportionate. Determining whether different offenses have identical elements is an objective test and is not concerned with the offenses as applied to an individual defendant.

Employing that objective test here, the Court looked at the aforementioned statutory elements and found a clear difference between them. Specifically, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child requires contact with the sex organ or anus of either the defendant or victim, while aggravated criminal sexual abuse may be committed by any touching or fondling, including over the clothing and including any part of the body of a victim under 13, for purposes of sexual gratification or arousal. And, because the legislature could have reasonably believed that sex organ/anus contact required a more severe penalty than any touching or fondling, the more severe penalty for predatory criminal sexual assault was not constitutionally disproportionate.

The Court rejected Johanson’s request to consider the elements as alleged here and find a proportionate penalties violation since the alleged conduct satisfied the elements of both offenses. Citing People v. Williams, 2015 IL 117470, the Court reaffirmed that an as-applied challenge cannot be brought under the identical elements test because that test simply compares the statutory elements of two offenses and does not consider the specific acts at issue. That is, while Johanson’s conduct may have satisfied both statutes, the statutory elements of “contact” for predatory criminal sexual assault and “sexual conduct” for aggravated criminal sexual abuse, are not themselves identical.

Commacho v. City of Joliet, 2024 IL 129263

By Joanne R. Driscoll, Forde & O’Meara LLP

Plaintiffs were found liable for noncompliance with City of Joliet ordinances that prohibited overweight and/or overlength vehicles on nondesignated highways. In this statutory construction appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that Joliet’s home rule authority to administratively adjudicate violations of its ordinances was not preempted by Section 1-2.1-2 of the Illinois Municipal Code (65 ILCS 5/1-2.1-2 (West 2020)). It nevertheless affirmed reversal of the judgments, holding that the hearing officer’s decisions were precluded by the Joliet Code of Ordinances.

The hearing officer at plaintiffs’ administrative hearings overruled their arguments that they were entitled to have their violations dismissed because applicable law required that they be adjudicated in the circuit court. Judgments were entered against them; and on administrative review, the circuit court affirmed. The appellate court reversed, following Catom Trucking, Inc. v. City of Chicago, 2011 IL App (1st) 101146, ¶ 11, which held that Section 1-2.1-2 of the Municipal Code prohibited administrative adjudications of traffic regulations.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Overstreet (with Justice O’Brien taking no part), the Court began its analysis by recognizing that home rule authorities have broad powers that can only be limited by expressly stated legislation. It then criticized the appellate court decisions here and in Cantom for their examination only of Section 1-2.1-2 of the Municipal Code, rather than the entire provisions of Article 1, Division 2.1 for purposes of determining preemption. The Court found that no provision of Article 1, Division 2.1 contained language specifically limiting home rule authority. To the contrary, multiple sections in Division 2.1 showed that the General Assembly did not intend to limit home rule authority to enforce or adjudicate ordinance violations. As a result, the Court overruled Cantom and vacated that part of the appellate court decision in this case to the extent that they found that the definition Section 1-2.1-2 deprived a home rule authority of jurisdiction to administratively adjudicate ordinance violations. The Court held that the purpose of Section 1-2.1-2 was to describe the parameters of a system of administrative adjudication that would result in a judgment that is enforceable without further action in the circuit court.

After holding that Division 2.1 did not prohibit, on jurisdictional grounds, a home rule municipality’s authority to administratively adjudicate violations of its ordinances, the Court determined whether the City of Joliet met the requirements for establishing a “system of administrative adjudication” pursuant to that division. The Court found that it did.

Nevertheless, the Court affirmed the appellate court’s reversal of the judgments on an alternative ground, namely, that Section 3-5 of the Joliet Code of Ordinances (Joliet Code of Ordinances § 3-5 (adopted May 15, 2018)) prohibited its hearing officers from adjudicating plaintiffs’ ordinance violations. That section prohibited adjudications required to be reported to the secretary of state. Section 6-204(a)(2) of the Vehicle Code (625 ILCS 5/6-204(a)(2) (West 2020)) required reporting of ordinance violations committed by any driver in a commercial motor vehicle as defined by Section 6-500 of the Vehicle Code (id. § 6-500). Plaintiffs fell within that definition and, thus, the hearing officer did not have jurisdiction to administratively adjudicate the ordinance violations here.