Updated: 01-07-16
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People v. Watkins, 361 Ill. App. 3d 498 (3rd Dist 2005)

Recently. I reported People v. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d 206, 824 N.E. 2d 262, [see Archives] where The State Supreme Court upheld a “reckless discharge of firearm” conviction of a defendant who fired a gun into the air in a residential area to celebrate the New Year.
This decision by the 3rd District Appellate Court is interesting in that, while coming to the same conclusion as the Supreme Court did in Collins, the majority here notes that its determination of what constitutes “recklessness” in this offense is a “first impression” matter because the Illinois Supreme Court in Collins addressed on appeal only the second of a two-pronged test of (1) recklessly discharging a firearm; and (2) endangering the bodily safety of an individual, [essential to a finding of reckless discharge of a firearm under 720 ILCS 5/24-1. 5(a).]
The dissent, on the other hand, not only criticizes the majority’s rationale, but also points out something that both this majority and the Illinois Supreme Court seem not to have considered—that is, the legislators’ intentions when 720 ILCS 5/24-1.5(a) was passed. See the comments by Justice McDade, below.
Facts: Defendant was seen driving away from a residential area where gunshots had been fired. When confronted by the police, he consented to a search of his residence where three firearms were found, including one of the same caliber as shell casings found by the police at the scene where the shots had been fired. Defendant admitted to not having a FOID card and was arrested. At the station, defendant gave a written statement wherein he alleged that the firearms found in his residence belonged to his brother, and that he had fired one into the air four times in his back yard, because he “just wanted to see how it worked. . . .I was not shooting at anyone and I was not trying to hurt anyone. I just fired the gun into the air.”
Court findings: The trial Court found the defendant guilty of reckless discharge of a firearm and possession of a firearm without a FOID card. Defendant appealed.
The Appellate Court, in reviewing the challenge to sufficiency of the evidence to convict under the felony charge of “reckless discharge of a firearm” reviewed the matter in light of the State Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Collins, 214 Ill. 2d 206 ( 2005). The Supreme Court in Collins found that the offense is two-pronged: First, the defendant must have recklessly discharged a firearm, and second, he must have endangered the bodily safety of another. [720 ILCS 5/24-1.5(a)].
“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 that situation.” 720 ILCS 5/4-6.
Following are highlights of the Court’s decision with some omissions in the quoted text:
“The reckless state of mind may be inferred from all the facts and circumstances in the record. People v Barnham, 337 Ill. App. 1121 . . . (2003).
“. . . The State need not prove that the defendant shot a gun knowing that he may injure a particular person to show the defendant’s reckless state of mind. People v. Thomas, 8 Ill. App. 3d 690 . . .(1972). According to this Court’s research, analysis of the reckless state of mind, as applied to the offense of reckless discharge of a firearm, is a matter of first impression. Consequently, we look to cases analyzing the reckless state of mind, as applied to other offenses, for analogous examples of reckless conduct. [The Court here cited cases dealing with (a) pointing a gun at someone; (b) driving while speeding and weaving between lanes, and (c) drawing a loaded gun in a crowded tavern—all of which were held to be “a reckless act.” Also, the Court took note of the defendant’s admission statement that he told the police “I can’t believe I was that stupid” was tantamount to a confession of “recklessness.”]
“In this case, the stipulated evidence showed that the defendant consciously disregarded the substantial and unjustifiable risk that the bullets he fired into the air would endanger the bodily safety of others in a residential area. Additionally, his disregard for the safety of others constituted a gross deviation from the standard of care which a reasonable person would exercise in a residential area.”
[The Court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment convicting the defendant of reckless discharge of a firearm.]
Dissent: In his dissent, Justice McDade states that the prosecution failed to prove the mental state required under the two-pronged test, stating in pertinent part:
“It appears from the opinion that the majority believes that his [defendant’s] stipulation that he told the police “I can’t believe that I was that stupid,” somehow equates to a confession of ‘recklessness’ I think his admission shows that, in fact, there was nothing ‘conscious’ in his apparent disregard of a possible risk.
“. . . The Legislature could have crafted a statute making any discharge of a firearm in the air in a residential area a crime, but it chose not to do so. Perhaps the legislators were concerned about the wholesale arrests that would be occasioned by the overly exuberant celebrators of holidays such as the New Year [ see Collins] the Fourth of July, and Memorial Day. Arguably, firing a gun into the air in a residential area at any time is inherently stupid. The legislators, however, whatever their rationale, chose to include a more rigorous mental state—one necessitating ‘conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk.’ I do not think an admission of stupidity satisfies that requirement and therefore respectfully dissent from the contrary opinion of the majority.”

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