Illinois Supreme Court: Proposed Line of Cross-Examination About Lack of Written Police Report Unnecessary
In People v. Pacheco, 2023 IL 127535, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s reversal of the trial court’s rulings in which it had barred the defendant from cross-examining an officer about whether he feared losing his job over the incident that resulted in the defendant’s charges, prohibited the defendant from questioning the officer about why he did not prepare a report, and barred any mention of a task force panel’s determination and policy recommendations after the incident.
In Pacheco, the defendant was charged with aggravated assault to a peace officer, aggravated fleeing, and DUI for an incident in Joliet when he fled from police and drove his vehicle toward them. One of the police officers fired gunshots toward the defendant’s vehicle as it was being driven toward him and injured the defendant. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶3.
The state filed a motion in limine that asked the trial court to bar the defense from eliciting any testimony from the officers involved in the incident that they did not write police reports. The state argued that the officers had testified at a previous hearing that they were prohibited from writing reports because one of them had discharged his firearm. The officers believed that this was the policy of the Joliet Police Department, and they had been required to provided video recorded statements about the incident. The trial court granted this motion in limine. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶¶4 – 5.
The state’s second motion in limine asked the trial court to bar the defense from referencing the Joliet Police Department’s deadly force review panel’s policy recommendation after this incident. The review panel also found that the officer’s discharge of his firearm was justified. The defense argued that it should be allowed to cross-examine the officer about the policy changes from this incident. The trial court ruled that the defense was prohibited from mentioning the policy changes and that the state was prohibited from mentioning that the review panel found that the officer’s actions were justified. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶¶6 – 9.
During the trial, the defense attempted to cross-examine the officer about whether he was afraid that he could have lost his job if it was determined that that he improperly used deadly force when he shot at the defendant. The defense argued that it could show that the officer was lying about the defendant trying to hit him with his vehicle if he believed he could have employment consequences from an unjustified shooting. The trial court denied this line of cross-examination. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶22.
The defendant was found guilty of aggravated assault, aggravated fleeing, and DUI. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶35. The appellate court reversed and held that the defendant’s confrontation rights were violated when he was prohibited from cross-examining the officer about whether he was afraid that he could lose his job if the shooting was found to be unjustified. The appellate court also held that the defendant should have been allowed to question the officers about why they did not write reports. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶¶39 – 40.
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s holdings. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶64.
In regard to the trial issue, the Supreme Court stated that if the officer had been asked whether he feared that he would lose his job if the shooting was found to be unjustified, his answer would certainly have been “no.” This was because the review panel had already determined that the officer’s conduct was appropriate. The court also emphasized that this line of questioning would have opened the door for the state to present evidence that the review panel found that the officer’s shooting was justified. The court agreed with the trial court that it would have been improper for the jury to learn that the panel determined that the officer was justified in his shooting and therefore was “in reasonable apprehension of being struck by Pacheco’s car” (for aggravated assault). 2023 IL 127535 at ¶¶49 – 50. Therefore, the defendant’s confrontation rights were not violated. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶52.
The Supreme Court next disagreed with the appellate court’s reasoning that the officers’ lack of police reports showed a lack of transparency from the Joliet Police Department. The Supreme Court stated that the Joliet Police Department’s wisdom on this policy was irrelevant to the charges. The Supreme Court noted that the credibility of the officers was at issue and not the credibility of the Joliet Police Department. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶59.
The Supreme Court further ruled that the officers had no choice whether to write reports, and therefore their lack of reports was irrelevant to their bias or credibility. The court also expressed concern that inquiries into the Joliet Police Department’s policies would have then created a minitrial on this issue requiring testimony from Joliet Police Department officials about this policy — none of which was relevant to the officers’ testimony about the incident and would have distracted the jury from determining the defendant’s guilt. Therefore, the trial court properly granted the state’s motion in limine. 2023 IL 127535 at ¶¶59, 61.
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