Illinois Supreme Court Moots Commitment Appeal Because No “Conflict Or Disarray” In Law

A trial court ruled Benjamin Hernandez was a sexually violent person. Before he could be released from prison, the Illinois Sexually Violent Commitment Act required an outpatient facility to write a conditional release plan. The court ordered the plan to be written, but two years later, it still had not been prepared.

The trial court then ordered that Hernandez “is to be placed on conditional release.” The court also ordered a conditional release plan to be filed within three months.

The State appealed, but filed its notice of appeal before the conditional release plan was filed and before the trial court made a written order of releasing Hernandez. The plan later was accepted by the trial court and Hernandez was released from custody.

But about 20 months later, before the case was considered by the Illinois Supreme Court, Hernandez was returned to the State’s custody for violation of the conditional release plan. He actually was back in custody when the appellate court considered the case, but no one informed the court in briefs or oral argument. So the first question in the supreme court was whether the State’s appeal was moot.

Both parties agreed the appeal was moot because the State had gotten what it wanted: Hernandez’s return to custody. The legal question was whether the public interest exception to the mootness doctrine applied. The supreme court ruled that the exception did not apply in this case because there was no “conflict or disarray” in the law that governs when an appeal from a conditional release under the Sexually violent Commitment Act may be taken.

The supreme court gave two reasons for why there was no “conflict or disarray.”

1. Because the appellate court ruled after Hernandez was back in the State’s custody, the appellate court’s ruling also was moot. And because it was moot, the supreme court vacated the appellate court’s ruling. There was no “conflict or disarray” because there really was no appellate court ruling at all.

2. In addition, the supreme court ruled that the question of the correct time to appeal a ruling under the Act was a question of first impression. A question of first impression, the supreme court said, could not be the basis for “conflict or disarray.”

The State also argued that dismissing its appeal would leave the State not knowing the right time to appeal from a conditional release order under the Act – when the trial court states it will release the offender, or only after a conditional release plan is accepted by the trial court. The supreme court rejected that argument because the State had the option of filing more than one notice of appeal. “… [A]ny time a party is genuinely confused about which of a court’s orders is the final order, it may always protect itself by filing multiple notices of appeal.”

The Illinois Supreme Court dismissed the appeal and vacated the appellate court’s ruling. Read the whole case, In re Commitment of Hernandez, No. 108824 (11/18/10), by clicking here.