Updated: 01-07-16
Firearm Laws
Search & Seizure

People vs. Smythe, 352 I11. App. 3d 1056.
(Notice:This decision has not been released for publication in the permanent law reports, and until released, it is subject to revision or withdrawal).
The Illinois Appellate Court for the 1st District, in a decision rendered on 9/30/04, has applied a de novo standard of review to interpret the meaning of the statutory term “uncased ” which is not explicitly defined in the statute. The uniqueness of this holding is that the Court relies upon the legislative intent, demonstrated by the author of the bill quoting a definition of “case” from the Illinois Wildlife Code, Chapter 520.
A semi-automatic pistol recovered in a search of the defendant’s automobile subsequent to a traffic stop was alleged by the officer to have been recovered from underneath the driver’s seat, and was in a snapped-shut holster, partially exposed, with a cartridge in the chamber. The defendant testified that the pistol (a SIG Sauer 9 millimeter-semi-automatic) was unloaded, and that all of the cartridges were in the gun’s clip inside the center console between the driver and passenger seat. Also, that after his basement had been broken into he had stored the gun and clip in his Expedition and forgot about it.
The jury found the defendant guilty of the offense of aggravated UUW. Defendant contended that he was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of aggravated UUW because the evidence was insufficient to show that his gun was “uncased” where it was undisputed that the officer discovered the gun inside a holster that was snapped shut. The defense argued that the failure to show that the gun was uncased requires that the Appellate Court reduce the felony conviction for aggravated UUW to the misdemeanor and lesser-included offense of UUW (720 ILCS 5/24-1) and remand for re-sentencing within the Class A misdemeanor range.
Following are highlights of the opinion of the court delivered by Justice Theis, with Justices Greiman and Quinn concurring (with some omissions not noted in the quoted text):
“A person commits the offense of aggravated UUW in Illinois by knowingly carrying a firearm in a vehicle that was uncased, loaded, and immediately accessible at the time of the offense, unless the person was carrying the firearm on his or her land, abode, or fixed place of business [720 ILCS 5/24-1.6(a)(1)(3)(A)]. In the present case, defendant does not dispute that the gun was loaded and immediately accessible. Rather, the question here is whether the defendant’s gun was “uncased.” “The term “uncased” is not explicitly defined in the statute, and therefore the Court will assume that the word has its ordinary and popularly understood meaning. People v. Bailey 167 Ill. 2d 210, 229, 212 Ill. Dec. 608, 657 N.E. 2d 953, 962 (1995). We are also mindful that our primary objective when construing the meaning of a statute is to ascertain and give effect the true intent of the Legislature. [citation omitted] All provisions of a statute are to be viewed as a whole, and words and phrases should not be construed in isolation, but must be interpreted in light of other relevant provisions of the statute.
“Webster’s dictionary defines the term “case” as “a box or receptacle to contain or hold something.” . . .Additionally in subsection (c) (iii) of the Statute, the legislature specifically provided that the offense of aggravated UUW does not apply to the transportation or possession of weapons that are “unloaded and enclosed in a case, firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container.” 70 ILCS 5/24-1.6 (c) (iii). To “enclose” means “to envelop” (Webster’s 3rd New International Dictionary 746 (1986)), and to “envelop" means “to enclose completely with a garment or other covering” [Webster's @ p. 759]. Thus, given the plain meaning of the term in light of all of the relevant provisions of the statute, it is evident that the term “case” refers to an item that completely encloses the weapon in a firearm carrying box, shipping box, or other container.
    “Here, the evidence revealed that the gun was found underneath the driver’s seat in a holster that was snapped-shut and partially exposed. A holster is traditionally defined as “a leather case for a pistol that is often open at the top to facilitate quick withdrawal, that often conforms to the pistols’ shape, and that is usually carried at the belt or under one arm or often at the front of a saddle. . . . Accordingly, a rational trier of fact could have found that defendant’s holster was “uncased,” as the butt of the gun was left exposed for ease of access and did not completely enclose the gun.
    “Moreover, the defendant’s argument that the holster is a “case” lacks merit because it is antithetical to the purpose of the aggravated UUW statute. The legislature’s purpose in enacting the aggravated UUW statute was to prevent any person from carrying a loaded weapon on his person or in his vehicle due to “the inherent dangers to police officers and the general public.” People v. Grant, 339 Ill. App. 3d 792, 791 N.E. 2d 100, 111 (2003) [other citations omitted].
    “. . . It is evident from the legislative history that the legislature intended “uncased” to mean that the weapon is not completely enclosed in a container. During the legislative debate on Public Act 91-690, Representative Cook specifically defined the term “case” as follows:
    “ REPRESENTATIVE COOK: “*** And John, why don’t I go ahead and give you a definition of what “case” is. Case is defined in the Wildlife Code, Ch. 520, ‘case means a container specifically designed for the purpose of housing a gun or a bow and arrow devise which completely encloses such gun or bow and arrow devise by being zipped, snapped, buckled, tied or otherwise fashioned with no portion of the gun or bow and arrow devise exposed.’” 91st Ill. Gen. Assem., House Proceedings, April 10, 2000, 50-51 (statements of Representative Cook) (Emphasis added).
    “ Therefore, the legislative history also establishes that the legislature intended for the gun to be enclosed in a container specifically designed for the purpose of housing a gun and that leaves no part of the gun exposed.”
[At this point the Court rejected defendant’s reliance on the dissent in People v. Bartimo, 345 Ill. App. 3d 1100, 1104, 803 N.E. 2d 596, 601 (2004). In Bartimo the dissent took exception with the Wildlife Code definition of “case” being used in that criminal prosecution, noting that the Wildlife Code definition has no place in interpreting the meaning of a term within the criminal statute. Distinguishing the facts in Bartimo, the Court here noted that the dissent in that case had no precedential value].
“For the foregoing reasons, we affirm the judgment of the Circuit Court. Affirmed.”

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