Thursday, December 2, 2010

When is a Rule a Law, and When is a Rule just a Rule?

The defendant in People v. Williams, No. 108947, slip op. (Ill. November 18, 2010) was a police dispatcher who was convicted of criminal drug conspiracy and official misconduct under 720 ILCS 5/33-3(b) (West 1998). Id. at 1-2. The official misconduct count alleged that defendant “in her official capacity as a police dispatcher knowingly performed an act which she knew she is forbidden by law to perform, to wit: she notified Greg Stroud about police activity near his residence…in order to facilitate illegal drug-dealing by Greg Stround. Id. at 2. The defendant was using the phone at the police department to call her child’s father to tip him off regarding police activity in the father’s vicinity. Id. at 2-4. According to the official misconduct statute, "A public officer or employee or special government agent commits misconduct when, in his official capacity or capacity as a special government agent, he...Knowingly performs an act which he knows he is forbidden by law to perform..." 720 ILCS 5/33-3(b). The state argued (and the trial court agreed) that the dispatcher committed official misconduct by placing the calls because she did so in violation of a confidentiality rule contained in the police department’s rules and regulations. The defendant appealed the official misconduct conviction, arguing that the department’s rules and regulations did not constitute a “law” within the meaning of the statute, and therefore she did not violate 5/33-3(b) because she did not satisfy the condition predicate of breaking any “law.” Id. at 5. The appellate court reversed the defendant’s conviction, holding that the departmental rules and regulations were not “laws,” and the State appealed to the Ill. Supreme Court. Id.

On appeal, the State argued that the departmental rules were ordinances (and therefore laws) because they were “adopted” by the City Council. Id. at 8. The Supreme Court rejected this argument because the State failed to prove that the rules were codified into an ordinance. Id. at 8-9. The Supreme Court instead affirmed the appellate court’s holding that the rules were not “laws,” reasoning that “law” in the official misconduct statute could not be construed so broadly that “it includes rules promulgated solely by a person in authority of a governmental department or the administrative staff” (in this case, the police chief). Id. at 11-12.

Context determines whether rules are laws or whether rules are just rules. Rules in a departmental handbook differ from administrative rules because departmental rules are promulgated by employers for employees, whereas administrative rules are promulgated by administrative bodies and codified into statute. Therefore, to tell a rule from a “law” within the context of the official misconduct statute, one needs to determine 1) who drafted it and 2) whether or not it has been codified. If a rule is drafted by a legislative body or an administrative agency for everyone to follow, it is probably a law. If it is drafted by a department head for only employees to follow, it is probably just a rule. If the rule has been codified, it is probably a law. If the rule only exists in an employee handbook, it is probably just a rule.

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