People v. Reese, 2017 IL 120011 (October). Episode 435 (Duration 7:59)
Vehicular hijacking doesn’t require that defendant take actual control of the vehicle.
Defendant Willis Reese was charged with several offenses, including aggravated vehicular hijacking (720 ILCS 5/18-4(a)(3) (West 2006)), vehicular invasion (720 ILCS 5/12-11.1 (West 2006)), attempted armed robbery (720 ILCS 5/8-4, 18-2 (West 2006)), and escape (720 ILCS 5/31-6 (West 2006)).
The jury found defendant guilty of aggravated vehicular hijacking, unlawful vehicular invasion, attempted armed robbery, and escape. Defendant was sentenced to concurrent extended-term sentences of 50 years for aggravated vehicular hijacking, 30 years for vehicular invasion, 30 years for attempted armed robbery, and 14 years for escape.
The trial court ordered those sentences to run consecutively to defendant’s sentence for murder.
The State called Cook County sheriff’s Deputy Vito Zaccaro, who testified that he was working in the external operations unit at John H. Stroger, Jr., Hospital of Cook County (Stroger Hospital) when he met defendant at the front of the hospital to accompany him to an appointment.
Defendant was wearing a Department of Corrections inmate uniform and was restrained with handcuffs and leg shackles.
Zaccaro transported defendant to the dermatology clinic on the second floor. Defendant repeatedly asked to use the restroom during the appointment. After the appointment, Zaccaro took defendant to a single-occupancy restroom and allowed him to enter with his hands uncuffed but his legs still shackled.
Zaccaro waited in the hallway outside with the restroom door “open about a crack.”
When defendant came out after about 10 minutes, Officer Zaccaro asked him to put his hands out, but defendant instead “jumped toward the one side with a silver metal weapon, placed it to [Zaccaro’s] neck and said ‘move or I’ll cut you.’ ”
Zaccaro felt defendant’s hand going toward his handgun, and he threw up his arms to prevent defendant from taking the gun. Defendant responded by stabbing Zaccaro in the neck.
Zaccaro struggled to detain defendant, but he tripped over defendant’s shackles, and they both fell to the floor. When defendant got up and began running, Zaccaro hit the “panic button” on his radio and chased defendant through the hallways and down an emergency stairwell, exiting at the front of Stroger Hospital.
Zaccaro followed defendant out of the hospital and saw him run onto a shuttle bus nearby.
In The Bus…
Zaccaro tried to enter the bus, but the door slammed on him and the bus began to travel around the circular driveway before it “just kind of stopped and went into a wall.” Defendant ran out of the bus, and hospital police officers tackled him.
James Rimmer testified that he was the driver of the shuttle bus and was making runs between the Cook County juvenile court parking lot and Stroger Hospital. The shuttle bus was parked near one of the main entrances to the hospital with the doors open when defendant, wearing a jail inmate uniform, ran through the front door. Rimmer testified that defendant “stood over me, left hand, I guess, behind my seat, and right hand in front of my face. I seen an object in his hand, and he ordered me to drive.” He told me to “Drive. If you stop, I’m gonna stab you in the neck.”
Rimmer closed the door to the bus and began driving.
After driving a short distance, Rimmer opened the door, causing the bus to stop suddenly. When defendant stumbled forward, Rimmer grabbed his arm and tried to hold him until police arrived. As they wrestled, defendant stabbed Rimmer twice in the face and once in the chest with a downward motion.
Defendant then broke free, ran through the front door of the bus, and was tackled by police officers.
On cross-examination, Rimmer testified that defendant never got behind the wheel of the bus or gave directions on where to drive.
Rimmer nonetheless thought he was a hostage during the incident.
On appeal, defendant maintained, among other things, that his aggravated vehicular hijacking conviction must be reversed because he did not “take” the bus within the meaning of the aggravated vehicular hijacking statute.
Defendant argued the statute requires proof that he actually dispossessed the shuttle bus from the driver. Defendant contended that merely forcing the driver to drive the bus was insufficient.
The appellate court agreed with defendant, holding that the taking element of aggravated vehicular hijacking is established only when a defendant causes the victim to part with possession or custody of the vehicle against his will.
On appeal to this court, the State contends that the appellate court construed the aggravated vehicular hijacking statute far too narrowly.
The State maintains that the statutory language does not require an offender to remove a vehicle from the driver’s possession but may also be satisfied when, as here, the defendant exercises control over the vehicle by use of force.
The offense of vehicular hijacking is committed when a person “takes a motor vehicle from the person or the immediate presence of another by the use of force or by threatening the imminent use of force.”
720 ILCS 5/18-3(a) (West 2006).
Vehicular hijacking is a Class 1 felony (720 ILCS 5/18-3(c)). The offense is enhanced to aggravated vehicular hijacking, a Class X felony with a minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment, if committed while the offender is armed with a dangerous weapon other than a firearm (720 ILCS 5/18-4(a)(3), (b).
The vehicular hijacking statute became effective in 1993 (Pub. Act 88-351, § 5 (eff. Aug. 13, 1993)), less than one year after this court issued its decision in Strickland, a case where the court held that an armed robbery of a car did not occur because the defendant never took physical control of the car. See People v. Strickland, 154 Ill. 2d 489, 526 (1992).
Subsequently, in People v. McCarter, 2011 IL App (1st) 092864, the appellate court relied on Strickland in construing the vehicular hijacking statute. The appellate court observed that, under Strickland, taking a large measure of control over a vehicle is insufficient to establish the offense of armed robbery. McCarter, 2011 IL App (1st) 092864, ¶ 77.
The appellate court held that, as with armed robbery, the vehicular hijacking statute also requires a defendant to dispossess the vehicle from the victim. McCarter, 2011 IL App (1st) 092864, ¶¶ 77-78. Although the defendant forced the victim to drive his vehicle at gunpoint, the evidence did not establish that the victim was ever dispossessed of his car. McCarter, 2011 IL App (1st) 092864, ¶ 78.
Accordingly, the appellate court concluded that the State failed to prove the offense of vehicular hijacking. McCarter, 2011 IL App (1st) 092864, ¶ 79. ¶ 36 The McCarter court viewed Strickland as controlling the construction of the vehicular hijacking statute.
We believe Strickland is distinguishable, however, for the simple reason that in Strickland we construed the armed robbery statute, not the vehicular hijacking statute. The vehicular hijacking statute was not even enacted until approximately one year after Strickland. Our construction of the armed robbery statute in Strickland was based largely on the common-law understanding of that offense.
This court has previously stated that “the gist of the offense of robbery, both at common law and under the statute of this State” is the force or intimidation used in taking property against a person’s will. The common-law understanding of the offense of robbery as requiring the defendant to remove property from the victim’s possession through the use of force or the threat of force is specific to that offense.
The vehicular hijacking offense is not derived from the common law but was newly enacted in 1993.
Accordingly, we find the analysis in Strickland is inapposite to the proper construction of the vehicular hijacking statute.
The legislature removed motor vehicles from the robbery statute and created an entirely new offense entitled “vehicular hijacking.”
Because the legislature created a new offense, we necessarily reject defendant’s argument that it only intended to punish robbery of a motor vehicle more harshly. Rather, in creating the new offense of vehicular hijacking, the legislature plainly intended to address criminal conduct distinct from robbery of a motor vehicle. We believe the legislature not only intended to encompass situations when a victim is actually dispossessed of a vehicle but also intended more broadly to include circumstances when the defendant takes a vehicle by exercising control.
In the context of vehicular hijacking, exercising control over a vehicle by directing the driver through the use of force or the threat of force falls within the plain statutory language requiring the offender to “take a motor vehicle from the person or the immediate presence of another.” 720 ILCS 5/18-3(a) (West 2006).
Undoubtedly, a victim may be subject to greater risk of violence if he or she remains in the vehicle with the offender.
Given the greater risk of harm, we do not believe the legislature intended to exclude from the scope of the vehicular hijacking statute the forceful taking of a vehicle while the driver remains inside.
In sum, we conclude that the legislature did not intend merely to enact a separate statute for robbery of a motor vehicle.
The legislature also intended to criminalize taking control of a vehicle by force or threat of force, including when the victim remains inside the vehicle. Accordingly, the appellate court’s decision to the contrary in McCarter must be overruled.
Defendant’s actions of threatening the shuttle bus driver with a knife and ordering him to drive fall squarely within the conduct prohibited by the vehicular hijacking statute. Defendant took control of the bus from the driver by the threat of force.
We conclude that the evidence was sufficient to establish the offense of aggravated vehicular hijacking.
Accordingly, the appellate court’s judgment is reversed on that point.