Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed September 12, 2013

 

 

Coram v. State of Illinois, 2013 IL 113867

Direct appeal from the circuit court of Adams County.

 

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

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Thomas concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Burke specially concurred, with opinion, joined by Justice Freeman.

      Justice Theis dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Garman.

 

      In 2009, Jerry W. Coram was denied a firearm owners’ identification (FOID) card by the Illinois Department of State Police. In 2010, he sought judicial review of this ruling in the circuit court of Adams County in an effort to obtain one. Judge Mark Schuering gave individual scrutiny to Coram’s circumstances, pursuant to the standards of review set forth in the FOID Card Act, and entered an order directing issuance of the card. He concluded that Coram, despite his earlier misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, would not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety. The local State’s Attorney had not objected to Coram’s request but, after the entry of Judge Schuering’s order, the Department of State Police successfully intervened in the case and made a motion to vacate on the basis of Coram’s 1992 domestic battery conviction in connection with slapping his girlfriend. He had pled guilty, but had not served any jail time. Illinois statute provides for the denial of a FOID card to anyone prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. In 1996, after Coram’s conviction, the federal Gun Control Act was amended to impose a firearm disability on those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

      In 2011, the matter at issue here came before Judge Thomas Ortbal, who not only confirmed the previous order for issuance of the card, but went further and held unconstitutional, as applied, language of the federal Gun Control Act which was incorporated by reference into the Illinois statute. Although that federal statutory language provided relief in cases of pardon, expungement of conviction, or restoration of rights after conviction, Coram, who had never served jail time, claimed that these grounds for relief were not available to him under Illinois law.

      The State Police, acting through the Attorney General, sought direct review of the holding of statutory unconstitutionality. However, the Illinois Supreme Court held that it could resolve this matter without reaching constitutional questions concerning the right to bear arms. It reversed that portion of the judgment below which held federal statutory law unconstitutional as applied, but affirmed the original order directing issuance of a FOID card. The Illinois Supreme Court held that Coram has a remedy under the Illinois statutory scheme, which provides a process of review to determine whether an applicant for a FOID card should be perpetually barred from obtaining one or can, instead, have his second amendment firearm rights restored because he is determined to currently be a law-abiding, responsible citizen. The latter is what happened here. Those results were upheld. The original order for issuance of a FOID card was affirmed, but the ruling as to statutory unconstitutionality was vacated.

      Although a recent amendment to the FOID Card Act, effective January 25, 2013, provides that relief from a firearms disability may be granted only if it is not contrary to federal law, it was not in effect at the time of the FOID card application at issue here.