LACON — Former Sparland Village Clerk Margaret “Marg” Murry’s cyberstalking case has been placed on hold pending an Illinois Supreme Court review of an appellate panel’s ruling that parts of the statute under which she was charged are unconstitutional.
Murry, 56, had been scheduled for a bench trial Jan. 31 on two felony counts of cyberstalking alleging she impersonated the online identity of another woman in September 2014 in a way that could have placed the woman in danger by leading two men to come to her home expecting a sexual relationship.
But the Chicago-based 1st District Appellate Court ruled in June in the Cook County case of People v. Relerford that both the state’s general stalking and cyberstalking statutes are unconstitutional on the grounds of violating 14th Amendment guarantees of due process.
What that court singled out was language stating that defendants could be convicted if they “knew or should know” that their conduct “would cause a reasonable person” to fear for his or her safety or suffer emotional distress.
While the “reasonable person” standard is common in civil law, it lacks the “mens rea” or “evil mind” element of intent needed to establish criminal responsibility, the three-member panel held unanimously.
The law “bypasses ‘the conventional requirement for criminal-conduct awareness of some wrongdoing,’” Justice Mathias W. Delort wrote in the opinion.
The Mt. Vernon-based 5th District had rejected a similar due process challenge in 2014. But that was before a U.S. Supreme Court decision in a federal case that “compels a result different from that,” Delort wrote.
The Murry case in Marshall County will likely be among others that are continued until the state’s top court resolves the issue on appeal by the Attorney General’s Office, State’s Attorney Paul Bauer indicated. He and Public Defender Patrick Murphy jointly agreed Tuesday to have the trial date vacated and have a status hearing Jan. 23.
“We’ll wait and see what the (Illinois) Supreme Court says,” Bauer said.
Murry, whose charges are unrelated to her former village duties, remains free on $2,500 cash bail. She could face up to three years in prison if convicted under the current law.
Gary L. Smith can be reached at (800) 516-0389 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Northern Circuit blog at pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @Glsmithx.