JOLIET – Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow and State Senator A.J. Wilhelmi announce that they are working on legislation that would eliminate the incentive for criminals in Illinois to kill, threaten or bribe witnesses to prevent them from testifying at trial.
The legislation proposed in SB2718 would allow prosecutors to enter into evidence the relevant statements from witnesses who were killed, threatened or bribed to stop them from testifying.
Under the proposed legislation, criminal defendants could no longer profit at trial from their illegal activities by claiming that the statements from witnesses they silenced are hearsay. The proposed Senate bill borrows from a federal rule that has assisted prosecutors in pursuing organized crime and drug cartel cases involving criminals who killed, threatened or bribed witnesses to silence them.
“Prosecutors at the federal level and in other states have used this rule of evidence to secure convictions against the most dangerous criminals,” Glasgow said. “This legislation will clarify the rule of evidence in Illinois to prevent defendants from escaping justice by murdering or intimidating a witness.”
“Under the state’s current rule of evidence, violent criminals in Illinois can profit from their illegal actions simply by silencing the witnesses against them,” Sen. Wilhelmi said. “The legislation I am proposing will clarify this rule and bring it into the 21st Century.”
The legislation would not affect a defendant’s due process rights. Prosecutors in Illinois will have to argue and prove in advance to a judge that the rule would apply to any statements they hope to enter into evidence.
This doctrine has been made into law in more than a dozen other states, among them Maryland, California, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Mexico, Utah, Vermont and Hawaii. Most of these states have simply adopted the federal rule. Others, like Maryland and California, have drafted and codified into law their own versions of this doctrine.
This is not a new legal principle. The application of this doctrine dates back more than 400 years under English common law and at least 130 years in the United States.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Reynolds in 1878 discussed this rule in the context of a bigamy case in which the defendant refused to tell law enforcement where one of his wives was located to prevent her from being served with a subpoena. The trial court allowed into evidence prior statements from that wife concerning her marriage to the defendant. The Supreme Court upheld the trial court.