In the past decade, 16 people have been charged with violating Caseyville's public indecency ordinance, but a judge found last month that the ordinance was unconstitutional.
More than half of those people accused of indecent conduct paid fines of $80 to $150. And legal experts said these people could be eligible to ask for their money back or their record cleared.
Most of the tickets were written for public urination, which occurred everywhere from restaurant parking lots, the police station's interrogation room, the village hall parking lot and to the street in front of Mayor George Chance's house. That defendant pleaded guilty, received supervision and paid a $100 fine.
But there were more serious cases.
One woman was charged with indecent conduct after police said she arranged to meet a man in a hotel room and have sex in exchange for money. It was a sting and the man turned out to be a Caseyville police officer. She pleaded guilty and paid a $150 fine.
And Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman, 49, of Pinckneyville, and J. Ian Stennett, 32, of Collinsville, were charged with public indecency after Caseyville officer Gerard Spratt saw the two men "engaged in sexual activity" about 1:15 a.m. on Dec. 16, 2010, in Stennett's 1994 Ford Escort station wagon parked at Killion's Irish Pub, 605 N. Main St., according to a police report.
Last month, Associate Judge Julie Katz found the ordinance was unconstitutional and dismissed the case against Kellerman. Katz found in a one-line order that the ordinance was "vague."
The indecent conduct ordinance states that: "It shall be unlawful for any person to commit any indecent or immoral act, or to appear in public places not properly or decently garbed."
The ordinance does not include any definition of what constitutes an indecent or immoral acts or proper dress.
"Public indecency laws generally cover public exposure of the genitals and/or a woman's breast," said Kurt T. Lash, a law professor at University of Illinois. "Statutes, or judicial opinions, often make this definition explicit. If there was no such definition in the ordinance, that may have convinced the court that it was unconstitutionally vague."
When a judge finds that an ordinance is too vague, it is either through the ordinance's application to the facts of the case or the language of the ordinance fails to spell out what exactly violates the law, said Howard Eglit, law professor at ITT Chicago-Kent College of Law.
Katz's ruling is a game-changer, the law professors agreed. And not just for Kellerman. For everyone who has been ever been accused of indecent conduct in Caseyville.
"If the ordinance was found unconstitutional on its face, everyone who has ever been charged under the ordinance should receive the benefit of that ruling," said Robert L. Jones, who teaches constitutional law at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb.
A search of the circuit court records showed that seven indecent conduct cases, including Kellerman's, were dismissed. Two of those defendants, including Kellerman, had lawyers. Nine defendants were found guilty, paying between $80 to $150 each for a total of $1,075. None of those defendants who pleaded guilty were represented by lawyers.
Stennett, Kellerman's co-defendant in the case, pleaded no contest and paid a $100 fine a year before Katz's ruling. Stennett could not be reached for comment.
"The facts of the case are exactly the same as (Kellerman's); therefore he should be entitled to the same finding," Jones said. "I don't know how easy it will be for him to get his money back, but I would think that he could."
Getting the fine money back may be difficult, Eglin and Jones agreed, perhaps requiring a court appearance, motions and arguments.
But it what may be more important to some of the defendants is the idea of having a conviction of indecent conduct on their records. Though municipal ordinance violations are technically civil cases, they show up on the circuit clerk's records, causing some uncomfortable explanations to prospective employers, friends and family. Reason enough, Jones said, for a defendant to seek relief.
In addition to Caseyville's municipal ordinance, there is a state law against public indecency. It prohibits anyone from an "act of sexual penetration or sexual conduct" or "lewd exposure of the body with the intent to arouse or to satisfy the sexual desire of a person" in a public place. It is punishable by six months to a year in jail and up to a $2,500 fine.
This doesn't cover public urination cases because there is no intent to arouse a sexual desire, just to relieve a biological function. But Kellerman and Stennett could have been charged under this statute.
Eglin theorized to save possible defendants from registering as sex offenders, but only those convicted of three or more cases of public indecency are required to register.
The other reason? Money.
"If the conviction were under the state statute, the money would go to the state," Eglin said. "Under the ordinance the fine imposed on the defendant goes to the municipality."
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2570.