Anthony Sculimbrene, Esq.
People v. Sullivan
46 Ill. 2d 399 (1970)
Unlawful intent to use a weapon requires evidence that rules out lawful use.
Chicago police received a tip that weapons were being transported in a car. The car’s descriptions was provided to police and eventually two officers located the car. They stopped the car and told the driver and two passengers the reason for the stop. One occupant got out and began protesting loudly. This drew a crowd. Two of the occupants had on their person large hunting knives. Eventually the police arrested all three people and charged them with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and unlawful possession of a weapon. All of the defendants were tried together and were found guilty on all of the charges.
On appeal the court quickly affirmed the convictions for disorderly conduct. It reversed the convictions for resisting arrest for reasons unimportant here. It also reversed the convictions of two of the defendants for unlawful possession of a weapon with intent to use. The court indicated that the State’s argument – namely that circumstances did not indicate the knives were for hunting – was faulty. Indirect evidence (“circumstantial” evidence) can be used to prove a violation of the law, but only if that evidence rules out all lawful conduct. Here, even though it was unlikely the knives were used for hunting, the State failed to admit evidence to exclude other lawful possible uses. As such, the weapons convictions were reversed.
Notes for Knife Owners
The knife laws in Illinois are complex and restrictive, targeting both blade length and knife designs. The unlawful possession with intent to use charge is even broader than the general prohibitions, excluding a wide variety of edged tools. The proof of intent, however, is not something the State can take lightly.
- Point 1: Proof of intent to use a weapon unlawfully takes some real effort on the State’s part.
Notes for Attorneys
This case is a perfect example of common sense legal principles carrying the day. Many states have a jury instruction that basically states that a case can be proven by circumstantial evidence alone, only to the extent that the circumstantial evidence rules out ALL innocent conduct. Here, the Illinois Supreme Court applies that principle to the weapons statute. The end result is a very good rule on what the State must show to prove intent to use unlawfully.
- Point 1: When knife laws require proof of intent, often this requires the use of circumstantial evidence, which has been subject of much legal analysis over the years. Brush up on that case law if you have an intent case.