Twelve-year-old Mathias H. wasn’t just a recalcitrant lad. He was a little delinquent who did what he wanted when he wanted.
Mathias came to the attention of Chicago police in August 2018 after he and his 18-year-old brother, who was armed with a gun, robbed a retail store and escaped with money, gift cards and two video-game systems.
After being arraigned in juvenile court, the seventh-grader was released on home detention and required to wear a GPS monitor. But when a probation officer visited Mathias’ residence to check on him, the officer was told by the boy’s mother that her son had “left home the day before and had not returned.”
During a subsequent court hearing on Mathias’ bond violation, the boy’s mother complained that Mathias “repeatedly failed to listen” to her.
Mathias didn’t listen to the judge, either. After warning that he could “only leave home to go to church or school,” the judge again released Mathias on home detention.
Mathias "indicated that he understood, and the court told (him) that if he failed to comply, he would be sent to the detention center,” court records state.
Mathias again violated the rules and was nowhere to be found when a probation officer paid another home visit.
After deciding Mathias is “at this point a danger to himself” and concluding home detention was ineffective, Judge Marianne Jackson ordered he be held in a juvenile detention center.
In doing so, the judge ignored a new Cook County ordinance, passed by the county board under its home-rule authority, barring judges from ordering anyone between the ages of 10 and 12 to be held in a juvenile detention facility.
Jackson suggested the Cook County law is unconstitutional because it “infringes” on her state statutory authority and it is nonsensical.
“If I follow this ordinance, what I would be creating is a 12-year-old who is at liberty to ignore his mother, at liberty to ignore this court and put himself in extreme danger, and that I would be powerless, essentially a paper tiger, to do anything about it,” she said.
The Cook County Public Defender’s office, who represents Mathias, disagreed with Jackson’s legal analysis. Insisting that Cook County’s home-rule authority trumps state law, the office filed a petition — called a writ of habeas corpus — before Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin that asked for Mathias’ immediate release.
Toomin upheld the legality of the decision to order Mathias' detention, and last week, a state appeal court — in a 2-1 decision — upheld Toomin’s finding that state law pre-empted the Cook County ordinance on this issue.
By the time the case showed up before the 1st District Appellate Court, it was moot, because Mathias had “served his sentence” and been released.
The appellate court, however, reviewed the case because it needed to “guide public officials and juvenile court judges who are likely to face the problem in the future.”
Cook is the only one of the state’s 102 counties that has “home rule” power, meaning it can “exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs.”
That power is vast but not unlimited, because home-rule units can’t tread in areas where the state has exclusive authority.
Citing the relevant statutes, Appellate Justice Daniel Pierce concluded the “admission of a minor into a county detention center can only be by the order of a judge acting under the provisions of the Juvenile Court Act, unrestricted by any home-rule ordinances.”
“A plain reading of the Juvenile Court Act and the Detention Act makes clear the legislature has enacted a comprehensive scheme for the treatment of minors 10 years of age and older who ... may require detention in a secure facility,” wrote Pierce, who was joined in the opinion by Justice John Griffin.
In a strong dissent, Justice Michael Hyman charged that the majority’s decision “erodes home-rule provisions of the Illinois Constitution” and disputed the notion that the law is “clear.”
He argued that the majority decision “meanders through a host of unrelated statutory provisions in the Detention Act and cobbles together legislative purpose unmoored from any express statutory intent.”
Insisting that Cook County’s home-rule authority on juvenile detention is not compromised by the state’s exclusive authority, Hyman charged the majority decision treats “Cook County as a non-home-rule unit.”
“Cook County may disagree with the General Assembly as long as the General Assembly has not expressly prevented it from doing so,” he wrote.
Cook County Public Defender Amy Campanelli expressed dismay with the appellate court decision, announcing that she’ll ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review it. The high court denies the vast majority of the requests it receives to review appellate court decisions.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.