Supreme Court Summaries

Opinions filed December 30, 2011

People v. One 1998 GMC, 2011 IL 110236

Direct appeal from the circuit court of Du Page County.


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

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Garman and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

      Justice Karmeier specially concurred, with opinion.

      Justice Freeman dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Burke.

      In Du Page County in 2007 and 2008, three separate forfeiture proceedings were instituted concerning three different motor vehicles. All had multiple owners, and, in each case, one of the owners was charged with aggravated DUI. In all three cases, the same counsel represented the claimants who sought the return of these vehicles. He persuaded the circuit court of Du Page County to declare the vehicle-forfeiture provisions of the Criminal Code of 1961 facially unconstitutional as a violation of procedural due process for lack of a statutory provision requiring a prompt probable cause hearing after seizure of a vehicle but before trial on merits of the forfeiture action. (A new statute, effective January 1, 2012, provides for such hearings.) The trial judge was concerned about the rights of noncriminally charged owners in multiple-owner situations and viewed it as irrelevant that the United States Supreme Court had held that “a long and unbroken line of cases holds that an owner’s interest in property may be forfeited by reason of the use to which the property is put even though the owner did not know that it was put to such use.” The forfeiture complaints were dismissed with prejudice, and the State brought a direct appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. Subsequent to the circuit court’s disputed action, the Appellate Court, Second District, decided several cases reaching an opposite conclusion, relying on precedent in doing so.

      In this opinion filed here, the Illinois Supreme Court looked to the United States Supreme Court decisions in United States v. $8,850, 461 U.S. 555 (1983), and United States v. Von Neumann, 474 U.S. 242 (1986), in reversing the holding of facial unconstitutionality entered by the circuit court. The court said that the Illinois statutory scheme does not mandate the return of a vehicle just because one of the owners demonstrates his innocence. Only one of the owners need give his consent to the use of a vehicle in the commission of an offense for the vehicle to be subject to forfeiture, and there is no constitutional requirement for an innocent-owner defense in a forfeiture proceeding. In most cases such as this, a prompt determination of probable cause is made in connection with the underlying criminal prosecution. In the Criminal Code of 1961, the forfeiture provisions themselves comport with due process, and there is no constitutional requirement for additional procedures.