Appeals Court Reduces Chicago Man's 12-Year Sentence For Looting Quarters From Vending Machine

Posted On: 1/4/2017

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TAGS: vending, stealing quarters from a vending machine, Harley Busse, petty thief, campus vending machines, University of Illinois Chicago

CHICAGO -- An appellate court that heard the case of a homeless Chicago man's 12-year sentence for stealing quarters from a vending machine has cut in half the time he must serve in the state penitentiary. The court ruled that the sentence was "grossly disproportionate" to the offense and overturned and cut the term to six years.

Harley Busse, described as a career petty thief, was put behind bars for 12 years for stealing $44 in quarters from a hot beverage vending machine at the University of Illinois Chicago campus in July 2012. He apparently left the nickels and dimes behind.

The 40-year-old homeless man had already been caught stealing from other machines on the campus in 2009 and was banned from it. An officer recognized him and took him into custody for trespassing, according to court documents.

Busse was reportedly carrying a briefcase that was full of quarters. Video surveillance showing a man matching his description robbing the machine by using a wire coat hanger led to a charge of burglary.

He had reportedly previously been convicted of burglary, attempted burglary and theft 28 times, and served jail time on 23 occasions.

Since the crime was committed at a school, and because Busse had a lengthy record, the judge was obligated under the state's sentencing laws to consider Class X felony sentencing for a repeat offender.

In sentencing Busse to 12 years in prison, Cook County Judge Michael B. McHale said "Nothing up to this point has made an impression upon you, maybe my 12-year sentence will make an impression on you."

The appellate court disagreed. "A paltry crime for a paltry sum does not warrant the 'unpaltry' sentence of 12 years. We hold that the trial court did abuse its discretion in sentencing Busse, and we impose a six-year sentence," the appellate court wrote in a decision delivered Dec. 27.

The appellate court emphasized that Busse did not "break in" to the UIC building; he apparently walked inside during the middle of the day. Busse was not armed and did not use a weapon of any sort, according to the decision, and no UIC students were threatened or harmed during his theft.

"He did not even damage the vending machines. It is difficult to conceive of an argument that Busse deserves 12 years in prison due to the seriousness of his offense," the court stated in its decision.

"This is unjust, not just to Busse, but to a public that will see this sentence and feel no confidence that our criminal justice system knows how to distinguish between a dangerous criminal and a homeless man who loots vending machines with a wire hanger," Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote in the majority opinion, taking note that the crime appeared to be motivated by poverty.