Premature Notice Of Appeal Deprives Court Of Jurisdiction To Review Conditional Release Of Sexually Violent Person

Benjamin Hernandez, adjudicated to be a sexually violent person under the Illinois Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act, was placed on conditional release. The State appealed, but filed its notice of appeal before the trial court approved the conditional release plan. Nor did the State file a new notice of appeal after the conditional release plan was approved.

The Second District Illinois Appellate Court dismissed the appeal because the State’s only notice of appeal was premature. When the trial court entered the order that placed Hernandez on conditional release, it also continued the case “for the presentation of a release plan.” The order for conditional release was not final and appealable, the court ruled, because:

[It] necessitated and contemplated further action by the court to determine the conditions of release. The [trial] court expressly retained jurisdiction over the proceedings for approval of the conditional release plan, as required by statute … We determine that the reservation of jurisdiction for the purpose of entering a conditional release plan shows that not all of the issues in dispute were fully addressed and settled by the July 3 [conditional release] order. Thus, the July 3 order was not final.

This opinion contains a “reluctant” concurrence. While recognizing the necessity of following the rules of appellate jurisdiction, the concurrence wondered whether there was a way to accommodate jurisdiction so an issue of public safety could be reviewed. Here is what the concurrence said:

This is an unfortunate and unconscionable result due to the hazards and intricacies of appellate jurisdiction. Appellate jurisdiction is rather like taking a stroll in a minefield … Here, the State stepped on the landmine of a premature notice of appeal – a problem that persists notwithstanding our supreme court’s effort to eradicate this pitfall by amending [Illinois Supreme Court] Rule 303 … [I]t … remains true that however important jurisdiction may be, it is, at the appellate level, quite arbitrary … For example, why cannot all premature notices of appeal be treated like the select ones covered by the recent amendment to Rule 303? If that were the case, we would have jurisdiction over this very important matter, just as the parties thought, quite persistently, we had.

The whole case, In re Commitment of Hernandez, No. 2-07-0853 (6/15/09), is available by clicking here.