Anthony Sculimbrene, Esq.
People v. Morrisette
225 Ill. App. 3d 1044 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dis. 1992)
Charges for violation of Illinois’s possession with intent statute must include details of the intent to use it unlawfully.
Morrisette was charged with a number of offenses. Only two are relevant here. First, Morrisette was charged with possession of contraband in a correctional facility. He was also charged with possession of a weapon with the intent to use it illegally. These charges stemmed from an incident at an Illinois correctional facility where Morrisette was housed. Authorities believed that Morrisette was caught as he was planning an escape. In the kit of tools he had allegedly gathered for the escape was a hacksaw. At trial, the court dismissed the charge related to the possession of contraband and the charge related to the possession with intent. In both instances the trial court found that the hacksaw was not a per se dangerous weapon and that it was not sufficiently described to violate either the contraband statute or the possession with intent statute.
On appeal the State argued that the hacksaw, in a corrections facility, was likely to be used illegally and therefore was both contraband and its possession was, under the circumstances, for an illegal use. The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that Illinois had two types of illegal weapons: per se and those illegal when possessed with an intent to use them unlawfully. The hacksaw in this case did not fall into the per se category. Furthermore, the charge describing it did not provide information that it was like a per se weapon nor did it describe the intent to use it unlawfully. The court also noted that the Illinois statutory scheme regarding weapons was not intended to criminalize every weapon, but only certain weapons. The court here noted that the hacksaw is a common tool and thus to criminalize it, without a description of an intent to use it unlawfully, would be to interpret the Illinois weapons statutes far too broadly.
Both the contraband charge and the possession with intent charge related to the hacksaw dismissed by the lower court and this dismissal was affirmed by the Court of Appeals.
Notes for Knife Owners
Given the very unusual facts here, this case provides little guidance for knife owners. It does mean that tools, even sharp ones, aren’t necessarily illegal in Illinois.
Notes for Attorneys
What Morrisette lacks in helpful information for knife owners, it makes up for in good language for attorneys litigating knife cases. First, Morrisette makes a clear distinction between the two major Illinois weapons statutes. This is helpful because it aids in analyzing charges. Here, the court found the indictments against Morrisette lacking. They did not sufficiently describe the hacksaw nor did the indictment spell out Morrisette’s unlawful intent. Remarkably, given the setting, the court was also unwilling to assume an illegal intent. In knife cases, be sure to check the charging documents carefully for both a description of the item and, if appropriate, a description of the supposed intent to use it unlawfully. Both should be present. Finally, this case contains excellent language about tools and weapons. Just like the hacksaw here, a knife is a common tool. It can’t be the case, under Morrisette, that all edged tools are illegal to possess.
- Point 1: Keep in mind the distinction between the per se dangerous weapon and the weapon that is dangerous because of an intent to use it unlawfully.
- Point 2: Check charging documents for sufficient language.
- Point 3: Mine the dicta here for excellent language about tools vs. weapons.