Judge to rule on constitutionality of weapons charges
URBANA — Circuit Judge Heidi Ladd expects to rule between now and mid-June on the constitutionality of felony weapons charges against a former University of Illinois football player and staff member.
Matt Sinclair, 31, was arrested on Nov. 23 after a motorist saw him point a gun at another vehicle on Interstate 74 in Urbana.
His defense attorney, Roger Webber, argued Monday that a portion of the law cited for Sinclair’s arrest is unconstitutional and said that Sinclair should be protected under the state’s recently passed concealed-carry law.
“Mr. Sinclair possessed a valid FOID (Firearms Owner’s Identification) card at the time of his arrest,” Webber said.
Webber noted that the courts had ruled that Illinois’ previous law prohibiting concealed-carry was unconstitutional. While the Legislature approved a new law allowing concealed-carry in July, no permits were issued until Feb. 28.
Since concealed-carry had been ruled constitutional long before Sinclair’s arrest, Webber said his client should have been entitled to carry the gun until permits were made available to qualified individuals.
“The problem is this was a complete ban of what had been recognized as a constitutional right,” Webber said. “It would have been more proper to say that anyone with a FOID card can do it (concealed-carry) until the procedures are put into place.”
Sinclair now meets most of the criteria to receive a permit under Illinois law, his attorney said, with one exception being the required 16 hours of specified firearms training.
Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney Matt Banach argued that the state needed a reasonable amount of time to set up regulations for concealed-carry.
“The law is constitutional and provides a reasonable means of upholding the Second Amendment,” he said. “The Legislature and state police did a great deal to make sure the wrong people did not get these permits.
“I disagree that the delay was a destruction of Second Amendment rights.”
Banach said it was appropriate for the courts to require all Illinois citizens to wait until the concealed-carry permits became available.
After hearing the arguments on both sides, Ladd said she anticipated issuing her ruling in writing between now and Sinclair’s next scheduled court appearance, on June 17.
Sinclair was originally charged with three felonies — aggravated unlawful use of a weapon, not having a valid concealed-carry permit and using the gun in the commission of a misdemeanor — but Banach said the first charge was dismissed for technical reasons.
In addition to the Class 4 felonies, Sinclair was charged with a misdemeanor for possessing brass knuckles.
He was arrested around 4 p.m. Nov. 23 after a driver behind him saw him point the gun out the window of the pickup truck he was driving. The witness, Marin Lowder, called 911.
Sinclair was on his way back from West Lafayette, Ind., where hours earlier Illinois had beaten Purdue to end a 20-game Big Ten losing streak. According to the police report, Sinclair said he had the gun with him for protection and was joking when he pointed it out the window at the SUV that had co-workers in it.
Police pulled over Sinclair near Green Street after he exited at Lincoln Avenue, according to the report. They found an unloaded gun in the center console of his pickup truck, a magazine loaded with 16 rounds of ammunition in the driver’s side door pocket and the set of brass knuckles.
At the time of his arrest, the former UI linebacker was just seven months into an $80,000-a-year job as assistant director of player personnel and relations.
On Nov. 24, he was placed on administrative leave. On Feb. 28, UI football coach Tim Beckman announced that Sinclair had resigned.
Last week, Beckman announced that former Illini quarterback Juice Williams had been hired as the team’s new director of alumni and former player relations.