Illinois Supreme Court considers if stoop is public place in assault case

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[November 23, 2022]  By Andrew Hensel | The Center Square

(The Center Square) A case about what constitutes public property where an assault occurs is now under consideration by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Alasdair Whitney with the Illinois attorney general's office in front of the Illinois Supreme Court Nov. 17, 2022. - BlueRoomStream


The case of Illinois vs. Vonzell Whitehead revolves around a physical altercation that took place on a porch of a Lake County apartment building in 2019. After a verbal altercation, Whitehead allegedly assaulted Steven Box with Box's cane on the apartment's stoop. Whitehead was found guilty of two counts of aggravated battery in a place of public accommodation and in 2020 was sentenced to 42 months in prison.

In December 2021, Illinois' 2nd District Court of Appeals heard a challenge over whether or not an apartment porch would be deemed public or private. If public, the defendant would see increased penalties. The appeals court ruled in favor of the state, claiming the stoop in front of the victim's apartment was deemed public property. The Illinois Supreme Court heard the appeal last week.

Zachary Wallace, the public defender for Whitehead, told the justices that the assault did not happen in a public place.

"It is not a location that the public would frequent or loiter or stay for any purpose," Wallace argued. "To the extent that it is accessible to the public would be for specific individuals or, more importantly, for a very limited purpose."

The assault happened after Box heard Whitehead arguing with someone else outside. When Box opened the door, he was accosted by Whitehead.

The state's lawyer, Alasdair Whitney, explained the state's argument.

"The definition of the term comports with the legislative intent behind the statute's enactment, which is to prevent and punish more severely these acts of violence that could draw in a member of the public," Whitney said.

Wallace argued that there is nothing about where the incident took place that would be inviting to the public.

"The stoop immediately in front of the door in front of one residence, there is simply nothing to invite the public to partake in anything," Wallace said.

The court took the case under advisement. If upheld, the defendant will face harsher penalties.

Andrew Hensel has years of experience as a reporter and pre-game host for the Joliet Slammers, and as a producer for the Windy City Bulls. A graduate of Iowa Wesleyan University and Illinois Media School, Andrew lives in the south suburbs of Chicago.



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