People v. Peel, 2018 IL App (4th) 160100 (August). Episode 531 (Duration 10:11)
Defendant shot his gun off in his yard into the ground in the middle of the night.
Defendant fired a handgun from somewhere in the vicinity of the front door of his home located in a residential subdivision of Heyworth, Illinois.
According to defendant, he decided to test-fire a Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun in his front yard sometime after 8 p.m. because his girlfriend was going to be using it while qualifying for her concealed carry permit.
Defendant said test-firing was necessary because the gun had jammed previously and he was trying new ammunition at the suggestion of his father. Defendant testified he exited his front door after consuming one or two beers, went down the front steps, and fired a number of rounds into the ground in his front yard, in a location he previously cleared of snow for his dogs.
He could not recall the exact number of rounds fired, but he estimated it to be “five to nine.” He saw the holes where the rounds landed and did not see any ricochet. Defendant described his angle of fire as, “I would guess 30 degrees, less than 45 degrees right out in front of me.”
The empty shell casings were ejected back and to the right of defendant as he fired.
He said he fired the rounds as quickly as possible because that was when the gun jammed previously, and he estimated it took no more than three to four seconds.
Neighbors reported hearing different groupings of shots, up to 3.
7 casings were found near or in Defendant’s house.
A witness said he saw a series of four flashes followed by loud booms coming from the front door, straight across from the doorbell at a height just below the deadbolt lock on the front door.
Also, although Defendant said he was test-firing the handgun because it had jammed previously, so he had loaded it with new Federal brand ammunition, yet the police recovered casings of two different types, brass and nickel.
Reckless Discharge of a Firearm
the State charged defendant with reckless discharge of a firearm (720 ILCS 5/24-1.5(a), alleging defendant discharged a firearm in a reckless manner, which endangered the bodily safety of an individual. To see a comprehensive list of other Illinois crimes go here.
After a jury trial he was convicted. The court sentenced defendant to 30 months of probation and 4 days of imprisonment.
“A person commits the offense of reckless discharge of a firearm when he (1) recklessly discharges a firearm, and (2) endangers the bodily safety of an individual.” People v. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d 206, 212, 824 N.E.2d 262, 265 (2005).
“A person is reckless or acts recklessly, when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that circumstances exist or that a result will follow, described by the statute defining the offense; and such disregard constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in the situation.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) People v. Watkins, 361 Ill. App. 3d 498, 500, 837 N.E.2d 943, 945 (2005).
See also this Illinois resource page on criminal mental states.
Defendant argues his conviction should be overturned where the evidence showed he fired a handgun into the ground, there was no evidence of ricochet, and no one was near him when he discharged his weapon.
“In order to satisfy the element of ‘endangerment’ contained in the statute, the State must establish that a defendant’s reckless conduct created a dangerous situation—such that an individual was in peril of probable harm or loss.” Collins, 214 Ill. 2d at 215.
Defendant argues he shot into the ground, a practice he believed to be safe because it lessened the possibility of any ricochet. Moreover, he said he saw no evidence of ricochet when he fired.
Why He Lying?
Defendant admitted on cross-examination he initially told police he had not fired a gun that night.
The Point Of The Law
As our supreme court has stated in Collins, part of the danger inherently caused by a reckless discharge of a firearm is the ricochet effect when bullets hit the ground. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d at 218. Further, the supreme court noted a defendant’s conduct need not actually endanger anyone but instead could be conduct that might result in harm, citing the legislative history for section 24-1.5 of the Criminal Code of 2012 (Criminal Code) (720 ILCS 5/24-1.5 (West 2012)).
They pointed out how prior to enactment of the reckless discharge of a firearm statute, there were only two choices for someone firing a firearm recklessly—a Class A misdemeanor for reckless conduct or a Class 1 felony for aggravated discharge of a firearm.
People v. Moreno
Defendant appears to erroneously argue the State must show there was an identifiable “someone” in his vicinity when he fired his handgun in order to establish reckless endangerment under the statute. This is a misreading of People v. Moreno, 2015 IL App (3d) 130119, 29 N.E.3d 660, and contrary to the supreme court’s express finding in Collins.
In Collins, the court noted how the specific identity of the victim is not an essential element and the danger or peril need only be potential or a possibility. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d at 215-19.
The Moreno court merely noted how, under the facts of the case, the only potential victims were behind the defendant when he fired, and the danger due to a potential ricochet was “virtually zero.” Moreno, 2015 IL App (3d) 130119, ¶ 44.
The court’s reasoning in Moreno cannot be used to say firing into the ground is inherently safe either, as the possibility of a round ricocheting off the ground when fired at an angle is always possible.
In this case, it was midwinter, which, as we can note just as well as the jury, means the ground is possibly frozen or nearly so. The facts before this court do not fall under the narrow exception for which Moreno applies.
See People v. Moreno, 2015 IL App (3d) 130119 (March). (dude shoots into the ground with people standing right behind him)
Defendant faced toward the house of his neighbor by his own description as he fired and would have been standing closer than the 138 feet measured by the deputy. This significantly undermines the supposed safety of defendant’s own version of events.
Here, even if defendant’s version of events was accepted, he fired “five to nine” rounds, not straight or nearly straight down into wintertime, recently snow-covered ground, but at an angle of he “would guess 30 degrees, less than 45 degrees right out in front of” him, in the immediate vicinity of a number of neighbors’ houses.
More importantly, if the jury did not believe defendant’s version, he fired a number of rounds off his front porch, almost straight out from the doorway, and these were not the only rounds fired that night. Witnesses described a series of three shootings. The first two, not as loud as the third, were fired somewhere and consisted of “five or so” each time.
It is reasonable for the jury to conclude defendant was firing from at least two different locations since the first two series of shots were not seen by neighbors and were not as loud as those off the front porch.
Contrary to defendant’s argument, this sounds exactly like the sort of conduct for which this statute was intended: For someone who just recklessly discharges a firearm. Doesn’t necessarily aim it at someone or aim it into a occupied building, but goes around town or out in the country or wherever it is shooting off a gun recklessly, with reckless abandon? See Collins, 214 Ill. 2d at 216 (quoting 88th Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 22, 1993, at 210 (statements of Representative Homer)).
Looking at the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, we find there was enough evidence in the record upon which a jury could find defendant guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm.
Seriously, What If Nobody Is Around?
See People v. Grant, 2017 IL App (1st) 142956 (February). (dude shoots his hand in his own apartment)
Jury asked if the law required risk to others other than defendant. They punted and said they had enough information in the instructions.
Legally, the answer is definitely “yes.”
See “[O]ur legislature intended the term ‘an individual’ to mean someone other than the ‘person’ who is charged with the offense of reckless discharge of a firearm.” People v. Grant, 2017 IL App (1st) 142956, ¶ 24, 73 N.E.3d 585.
Prior to the First District’s holding in Grant, 2017 IL App (1st) 142956, no Illinois decision had interpreted the meaning of “an individual” in the reckless discharge statute. The dispute in Grant centered on whether that phrase could be interpreted to include the defendant. Grant, 2017 IL App (1st) 142956, ¶ 8.
People v. Olivieri, 2016 IL App (1st) 152137 (August). Episode 215 (Duration 8:18) (Sympathetic Nervous System Reaction Wins The Day In This Gun Case)