People v. Laubscher

Annotate this Case
People v. Laubscher, No. 83518 (9/24/98)
Docket No. 83518--Agenda 11--May 1998.

CHIEF JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the
Defendant, Anthony Laubscher, was found guilty by the
circuit court of Champaign County of unlawful use of a weapon
and aggravated assault following a dispute on the premises of
his residence. Defendant appealed from his conviction for
unlawful use of a weapon, and the appellate court reversed,
concluding that the State failed to prove that at the time
defendant possessed the weapon, he was not either "on his land"
or in his "fixed place of business" as provided in the exceptions
to the unlawful use of weapons statute (720 ILCS 5/24--1(a)(4)
(West 1994)). 288 Ill. App. 3d 438. We granted the State's
petition for leave to appeal (166 Ill. 2d R. 315(a)) and now
affirm the appellate court.

The altercation giving rise to this case transpired on
September 10, 1995, on the lawn area abutting an apartment
building located at 807 South Randolph in Champaign, Illinois.
Both defendant and complainant, Chris Darvin, resided in the
building. Defendant lived in "unit 3" and Darvin resided in an
apartment on the second floor. The State's case consisted of the
testimony of Darvin, defendant's friend Amanda Hinkle, and
Officer Chase Leonhard. Darvin testified that the two-story
apartment building contained eight units, and a balcony that ran
the length of the second floor. From the section of the balcony
outside his apartment, Darvin could see over bushes onto the
lawn area, which also ran the length of the building and
extended from the side of the building to the sidewalk. Darvin
testified that there was no fence enclosing the lawn area, and
that it was commonly used by people to traverse from the street
to the apartment building.
At approximately 8:30 on the night of the occurrence,
Darvin noticed defendant engaged in an argument with two
young males on the lawn area. Darvin testified that he had just
moved into the building at that time and had had no prior
contact with defendant. Darvin approached defendant and the
young males in an effort to break up the fight, but defendant
warned him to "stand back and stand fast." As Darvin began
backing up towards the building, he saw a gun protruding from
the rear waistband of defendant's pants. Darvin testified that
although he did not hear the entire argument, he heard defendant
yell to the boys, "If you have a problem with it, I got something
for you." Darvin believed defendant was intoxicated, so he ran
up behind defendant and pulled the gun out of his waistband.
Defendant and the two boys then fled in opposite directions, and
Darvin went to a nearby first-floor apartment and discussed the
occurrence with two female occupants. Darvin testified that after
about 30 to 45 seconds, defendant emerged from another
apartment with an SKS rifle in his hands and ran towards
Darvin. Darvin fled around the building in an effort to outrun
defendant, while defendant continued chasing Darvin with the
rifle. Darvin eventually succeeded in escaping into his own
apartment, where his fiancée telephoned the police. The police
arrived and placed hand restraints on defendant and Darvin, who
still had defendant's .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol. Darvin
testified that when he was on the ground in restraints he noticed
that defendant's gun was "cocked back" and loaded. Darvin
testified that he had seen defendant around the apartment
"complex" since the occurrence, but that at the time of the
incident, he was unaware defendant lived in the building.
The State then presented the testimony of Amanda Hinkle,
who indicated only that she was present in defendant's
apartment at the time of the occurrence, and that defendant lived
at the apartment building. Finally, Officer Leonhard indicated
that he responded to the call regarding the altercation, and
testified regarding his search of defendant's apartment and
confiscation of the weapons wielded by defendant. The defense
rested without presenting any evidence.
Following arguments, the court found defendant guilty of
unlawful use of weapons and aggravated assault, sentencing him
to 24 months' probation and 150 hours of public service. The
appellate court reversed the unlawful use of weapons conviction,
finding that the State failed to prove that at the time defendant
was observed in possession of the weapon, he was not either
"on his land" or in his "fixed place of business" as provided in
the exceptions to the unlawful use of weapons statute. 720 ILCS
5/24--1(a)(4) (West 1994).

The State initially asserts that it presented sufficient
evidence that defendant was not on his land at the time Darvin
observed him with the weapon. Section 24--1(a)(4) of the
Criminal Code of 1961 provides:
"(a) A person commits the offense of unlawful use of
weapons when he knowingly:
* * *
(4) Carries or possesses *** concealed on or about his
person except when on his land or in his own abode or
fixed place of business any pistol, revolver, stun gun or
taser or other firearm ***." (Emphasis added.) 720 ILCS
5/24--1(a)(4) (West 1994).
As can be seen, the legislature has included the above-italicized
exceptions within the statutory definition of the offense of
unlawful use of weapons. When an exception appears as part of
the body of a substantive offense, the State bears the burden of
disproving the existence of the exception beyond a reasonable
doubt in order to sustain a conviction for the offense. Cf. People
v. Saltis, 328 Ill. 494, 500-01 (1927); People v. Chmilenko, 44
Ill. App. 3d 1060, 1062 (1976); see generally Mullaney v.
Wilbur, 421 U.S. 684, 44 L. Ed. 2d 508, 95 S. Ct. 1881 (1975).
It is well established that, in sustaining this burden, the State
may rely upon circumstantial evidence, as long as it provides
proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each element of the crime
charged. People v. Campbell, 146 Ill. 2d 363, 379 (1992).
However, there must be some evidence giving rise to a
reasonable inference of defendant's guilt; the State may not
leave to conjecture or assumption essential elements of the
crime. Cf. People v. Magnafichi, 9 Ill. 2d 169, 173 (1956); In re
Whittenburg, 37 Ill. App. 3d 793, 795 (1976).
In reversing defendant's conviction, the appellate court
noted a complete lack of evidence regarding the nature of
defendant's interest in the land encompassing the apartment
building. The court concluded that, although it was not
unreasonable for the trial court to assume defendant had no
ownership interest in the premises, permitting such an inference
without any evidentiary basis would effectively shift the burden
to defendant to prove that he was on his land or that he
otherwise fell within an exception to section 24--1(a)(4). We
agree with the appellate court's reasoning. The sole evidence
offered by the State regarding defendant's connection with the
property was that he "lived in the building." There was no proof
of his interest in his unit or the surrounding land, or as to the
ownership of the property in general. Although, on one
occasion, Darvin loosely referred to occupants of the building
as "tenants," this was insufficient to establish beyond a
reasonable doubt defendant's particular interest in the premises.
The State alternatively asserts that, even if defendant did
possess some fee interest in the premises, he would still not be
protected under the "on his land" exception because the lawn
was a common area of the property that was readily accessible
to the public and residents of the building. In support of this
position, the State points to Darvin's testimony that the lawn
area was commonly traversed by people to get to and from their
In several jurisdictions with statutory language comparable
to that of section 24--1(a)(4), courts have construed the phrase
"on his own premises" or "on his own lands" to exclude public
lands, including those portions of an individual's property which
that individual has opened to the public. See, e.g., State v.
Perry, 120 N.C. 580, 26 S.E. 915 (1897); Moss v. State, 65 Ark.
368, 45 S.W. 987 (1898). One court has held that an exception
for any individual carrying a weapon on "land possessed by
him" did not encompass the common areas of that individual's
apartment building or areas of the premises over which the
accused lacked "exclusive control and possession." White v.
United States, 283 A.2d 21, 24 (D.C. 1971); see also Fortune v.
United States, 570 A.2d 809 (D.C. 1990); Hines v. United
States, 326 A.2d 247 (D.C. 1974). We find that the
interpretation advanced by these courts is not justified under the
plain meaning of section 24--1(a). The legislature's intent in
enacting a statute must first be ascertained by reference to the
statutory language itself. Where an enactment is clear and
unambiguous, this court is not at liberty to read into it
exceptions, limitations, or conditions that the legislature did not
express; nor should this court search for any subtle or not
readily apparent intention of the legislature. People v. Woodard,
175 Ill. 2d 435, 443 (1997). Further, because section 24--1 is a
penal statute, it must be strictly construed in favor of the
accused, and nothing should be taken by intendment or
implication beyond the obvious or literal meaning of the statute.
Woodard, 175 Ill. 2d at 444; People v. Shinkle, 128 Ill. 2d 480,
486 (1989).
Section 24--1(a)(4) broadly excepts from culpability any
individual carrying a weapon while on "his land," meaning land
over which he enjoys some ownership interest. There is nothing
in the statute limiting the meaning of this phrase based upon the
exclusivity of the individual's possession of the land, or the
degree of public access he permits on the property. We believe
that, had the legislature intended such a restriction, it would
have explicitly provided for it. Further, to interpret this
exception as the State suggests would be to expand the scope of
the offense of unlawful use of weapons beyond the clear intent
of the legislature.
The interpretation proposed by the State is further
undermined by section 24--1(a)(10) of the statute, which makes
it a criminal offense for an individual to "[carry or possess] ***
upon any public street, alley, or other public lands within the
corporate limits of a city, village or incorporated town, ***
except when on his land or in his own abode or fixed place of
business, any pistol, revolver, stun gun or taser or other
firearm." 720 ILCS 5/24--1(a)(10) (West 1994). This section
would permit an individual to carry or possess a firearm even on
land classified as "public," as long as that individual had an
ownership interest in the property. Seemingly, section 24--
1(a)(10) was intended to eliminate any restriction of a person's
right to carry a weapon on areas of his property which are
readily accessible to or open for use by the public. Construed
together, sections 24--1(a)(4) and (a)(10) provide no basis for
the interpretation argued by the State. Thus, the State's
argument must fail. In light of our decision on this issue, we do
not reach the question of whether defendant was in his fixed
place of business under section 24--1(a)(4).

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the appellate
court is affirmed.