Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed January 20, 2012

 

 

 

People v. Rinehart, 2012 IL 111719

Appellate citation: 406 Ill. App. 3d 272.

 

      JUSTICE THEIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, and Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      This criminal case comes from Coles County. Defendant was living with the mother of a 17-year-old girl who had developmental disabilities. In 2006, when he found himself alone with the girl, he allegedly committed a criminal sexual assault upon her, but she did not immediately report it. After she did, a jury found him guilty in a 2007 trial in which he presented no evidence. In his appeal, Rinehart complained of questions which the prosecutor was permitted to ask prospective jurors. Five venirepersons were asked short questions, without objection, as to why a sexual assault victim might delay the making of a report. The appellate court found that the prosecutor had crossed the boundary of acceptable voir dire, but refused to excuse the defendant’s procedural default under the plain-error rule, finding it inapplicable. It affirmed the conviction. The supreme court, in this decision, ruled that the trial court had not abused its discretion as to the voir dire which was permitted. It found no error and, like the appellate court, allowed defendant’s procedural default to stand. Thus, the conviction was again affirmed.

      The defendant, however, had an issue concerning sentencing. He had received a 28-year term. He complained on appeal of the manner in which the trial court dealt with his parole, also known as mandatory supervised release (MSR). The written sentencing judgment did not mention MSR. Thereafter, the Illinois Department of Corrections calculated defendant’s sentence to include an indeterminate MSR term of three years to natural life. The sentencing judge had said that he was “a little bit unclear *** what that [MSR] period would be. There’s some recent legislation that would suggest to me that the applicable time *** is not less than three [years] and could be up to natural life. *** I don’t think I have to make that as part of my finding. It’s what the Department of Corrections will impose.”

      The statutory amendment in question, which took effect in 2005, states that, for the offense of criminal sexual assault, “the term of mandatory supervised release shall range from a minimum of 3 years to a maximum of natural life of the defendant.” The challenge presented by the defendant here calls for construction of this statute.

      The Fourth District of the appellate court responded to Rinehart’s complaints in 2010 by remanding to the circuit court to set a determinate MSR term within the statutory range of three years to natural life. The appellate court was of the view that Illinois has a determinate sentencing structure and that an indeterminate MSR term is inconsistent with that. It was aware that, about half a year earlier, the Second District had ruled that trial courts can impose an indeterminate MSR sentence and the Department of Corrections can later decide when release may occur. The appellate court in this case disagreed with that other ruling (People v. Schneider, 403 Ill. App. 3d 301 (2010)) and declined to follow it.

      In the decision issued today, the Illinois Supreme Court said that the court in the Schneider case saw the impetus behind the statutory requirements more clearly. Indeterminate sentences have generally been abolished in Illinois, but, in 2005, were resurrected as to certain specified sex offenses in order to create lifetime supervision for high-risk offenders and because of the risk of recidivism. The supreme court said that these new provisions contemplate indeterminate, not determinate, terms, and the appellate court should not have vacated what the circuit court had done. The circuit court was upheld.