People v. Plank, 2018 IL 122202 (May). Episode 493 (Duration 8:45)
Definition of motorized bicycle is not unconstitutionally vague.
When the State charged defendant John Plank with driving a motor vehicle with a revoked license, he claimed that the statute did not clearly tell him which vehicles he could and could not drive.
Specifically he argued that the Vehicle Code’s definition of “low-speed gas bicycle” was unconstitutionally vague in violation of the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions.
The trial court agreed.
An officer saw defendant riding a motorized bicycle down a Douglas County road at a speed of 26 miles per hour.
He signaled to defendant to stop, and defendant pulled over.
Defendant admitted that his license was revoked. The State charged defendant with violating section 6-303(a) of the Vehicle Code. See 625 ILCS 5/6-303(a).
The officer said the bicycle was powered by one those weed eater motors.
Charged As A Felony
Generally, driving a motor vehicle on state highways with a revoked license is a Class A misdemeanor. However, the State alleged that defendant’s license had been revoked previously following a conviction for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol (DUI). After that DUI conviction, defendant was convicted for driving without a valid license in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
This background led the State to increase the new charge to a Class 4 felony, requiring at least 180 days’ incarceration. Id. § 6-303(d-3).
The Law On “Low-Speed-Gas-Bicycle”
The Illinois Vehicle Code prohibits anyone with a revoked driver’s license from driving a “motor vehicle.” 625 ILCS 5/6-303(a) (West 2012).
The term “motor vehicle” includes
“[e]very vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires, but not operated upon rails, except for vehicles moved solely by human power, motorized wheelchairs, low-speed electric bicycles, and low-speed gas bicycles.”
However, someone with a revoked license may still drive a “low-speed gas bicycle” without violating this statute. Id. § 1-146.
The Vehicle Code defines “low-speed gas bicycle” as a
“2 or 3-wheeled device with fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than one horsepower, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour.”
He claimed both that the definition fails to provide persons of ordinary intelligence with a reasonable opportunity to understand what is prohibited and that the definition encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.
The circuit court agreed with defendant that this definition of “low-speed gas bicycle” was unconstitutionally vague and, thus, violated the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois Constitutions. U.S. Const., amend. XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 2.
A statutory provision can be too vague to satisfy the requirements of due process of law in two ways:
first, the statute does not provide individuals of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to understand what conduct the law prohibits, or
second, the statute does not provide law enforcement with reasonable standards to avoid arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement. City of Chicago v. Morales, 527 U.S. 41, 56 (1999); Bartlow v. Costigan, 2014 IL 115152, ¶ 40.
By allowing government actors to enforce only those statutes with definite content, the vagueness doctrine protects the rule of law from potential abuses of discretion.
Defendant is not reading the statute correctly.
It essentially describes a standard. The statute actually defines “low-speed gas bicycle” as a “2 or 3-wheeled device with fully operable pedals and a gasoline motor of less than one horsepower, whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 miles per hour.”
The statute is explaining that a defining characteristic of a low-speed gas bicycle is an engine that is incapable of transporting 170 pounds at 20 miles per hour without help from gravity or pedaling.
A bicycle’s motor will either have this capability or not, regardless of the weight of any particular driver.
No Subjective Elements
The vagueness doctrine also does not require that a statute’s application to a particular set of facts be readily apparent. The General Assembly may constitutionally require people to seek additional information before they engage in legally questionable behavior.
When courts have struck down statutes under the vagueness doctrine, they have done so because the statutes depended on “wholly subjective judgments.”
The Vehicle Code does not depend on any subjective judgements. Instead, a particular vehicle either is a “low-speed gas bicycle” for everyone or it is not for everyone, just as a driver’s blood-alcohol content either is or is not over 0.10%.
This is all that the vagueness doctrine requires.
It’s Not Obvious But Not Vague
Even if defendant is correct that an officer might have difficulty estimating engine power, the vagueness doctrine does not require officers to precisely gather sufficient data to prove all the elements of a crime at the moment of citation or arrest.
An officer need only have probable cause to believe the suspect has committed a crime. This inability to immediately gather precise data about a driver’s state does not render the DUI statute prohibiting driving while intoxicated unconstitutionally vague. Similarly, if an officer sees someone driving a motorized bicycle at a speed well over 20 miles per hour down a level road, those facts support the officer’s initial conclusions that this vehicle’s motor is powerful enough to move someone who weighs 170 pounds over a paved, level surface at a speed over 20 miles per hour and that the driver needs a valid license to operate this vehicle.
As far as the vagueness doctrine is concerned, the Vehicle Code’s definition of “low-speed gas bicycle” provides both law enforcement and other law-abiding Illinoisans with definite criteria to determine if a certain vehicle is a “motor vehicle.”
It is not so ineffective that it “provides no standard of conduct at all.” Fabing, 143 Ill. 2d at 55.
The Vehicle Code’s definition of “low-speed gas bicycle” satisfies the requirements of due process of law. We reverse the circuit court’s dismissal of the charge and remand for further proceedings.