URBANA — A Champaign County judge has rejected a former University of Illinois football staffer's constitutional challenge to the unlawful use of weapons statute.
A ruling issued by Judge Heidi Ladd Tuesday means aggravated unlawful use of weapons charges against Matt Sinclair, 31, of Savoy, will proceed.
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Sinclair, a UI linebacker from 2001 to 2004, had been arrested and charged in November with aggravated unlawful use of weapons for allegedly pointing a gun out his pickup truck window at a co-worker beside him in jest as they drove back to Urbana on Interstate 74 from the Illinois football game at Purdue.
A Morgan County woman driving behind him thought she was about to witness a murder and called police, who stopped Sinclair in Urbana after he got off I-74 and arrested him.
His attorneys, Roger Webber and Steve Beckett of Urbana, argued in March that Sinclair, who had a valid Firearm Owner's Identification Card, should have been protected by the state's concealed-carry law, which was passed by the Illinois Legislature in July 2013. However, the process for issuing permits was not in place until January, almost two months after Sinclair's arrest.
In essence, Ladd agreed with rulings by other courts that the time delay in implementing the permit process was reasonable and that the existing statute still applied.
"What the defendant is actually asserting is not a challenge to the constitutionality of the new aggravated unlawful use of weapons (statute), but indirectly, to the inherent delay in implementation of the system that permits concealed carry of ready-to-use firearms. That is not the basis for a facially unconstitutional challenge," she said in a written ruling.
Ladd noted that the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals had "specifically rejected" Sinclair's argument that the old law was void in all its applications.
Sinclair resigned in late February from his $80,000-a-year position as assistant director of player personnel and relations. He had the job only seven months at the time of his arrest.
Ladd has been working on her ruling for months and handed it to the attorneys at Tuesday's pretrial hearing, where Sinclair appeared personally with his new attorney, Brett Olmstead of Urbana.
Olmstead inherited the case from Webber when Webber was sworn in last month as the circuit's newest associate judge.
Olmstead and Assistant State's Attorney Matt Banach said they were not willing to talk about any possible resolution of Sinclair's charges.
"We're disappointed in the ruling," said Olmstead, adding that the case "could be resolved in a way that permitted an appeal of the ruling."
What he meant was that Sinclair would have to be convicted by a judge in a bench trial or a jury. A negotiated guilty plea to a charge less serious than the Class 4 felony aggravated unlawful use of weapons would preclude Sinclair from pursuing an appeal.
"We're not commenting right now on how we're proceeding with the case," said Banach. "That's between us and counsel. We're figuring it out."
Meantime, Sinclair's case was continued to the Aug. 12 pretrial before Ladd.
Olmstead said Sinclair is "living and working in this area leading a law-abiding life."