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Judicial Rulings

Dismissal not automatic in juvenile court

Because cases in juvenile court are different from those in other courts, the prosecution's notion to dismiss is not to be automatically granted. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled on the matter on January 24.

The Cook County state's attorney had moved to dismiss petitions alleging abuse of minor children, and the circuit court granted the motion without further consideration. The high court agreed that separation of powers prevents court interference with the state's attorney's absolute discretion in deciding whether or not to prosecute in criminal cases. It said, however, that in petitions concerning abuse and neglect "the State's Attorney is not called upon to exercise executive discretion in determining whether to initiate a criminal charge against a minor." Rather, "The overriding purpose of the Juvenile Court Act is to ensure that the best interests of the minor, the minor's family, and the community are served."

The Juvenile Court Act directs the court "to gather information bearing upon the current condition and future welfare of persons subject to [the Juvenile Court] Act'' (see Illinois Revised Statutes 1987, ch. 37, sec. 801-2(2)). To do this, the court directed that "when the state moves to dismiss a motion alleging abuse of a minor, the circuit court shall consider the merits of the motion and determine, on the record, whether dismissal is in the best interests of the minor, the minor's family, and the community.

Justice Horace L. Calvo wrote the opinion in In re J.J. (Docket Nos. 69794 and 69852 cons.). The newly seated justices, Charles E. Freeman, Michael A. Bilandic and James D. Heiple, did not participate.

Dream murder revisited

The notorious case in which the defendant reported his dream about a beating on the same night that a murder occurred next door has still not been settled. On January 31 the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial.

Evidence against the defendant consisted of his account of the dream and comparison of blood and hair samples from him and from the crime scene. The high court held that the hair and blood samples did not conclusively identify the defendant, but that the prosecutor repeatedly said that they did, both in opening remarks and in summation.

The state's expert would only say that the defendant's hair samples were "consistent" with those at the crime scene, but the prosecutor repeatedly said that they matched. The court remarked, "While it may be true that all things that 'match' are also 'consistent,' it is not true that all things that are 'consistent' also 'match.' " The evidence about the blood samples only served to place the defendant among a rather sizable pool of men who could have known the victim, but the prosecutor's misrepresentation narrowed the size of the pool considerably.

The court had remanded the same case once before. This time it reversed the decision on the doctrine of plain error, under which it is found that errors made at trial might deprive the defendant of a fair and impartial hearing. The opinion in People v Linscott (Docket No. 65792) was by Justice William G. Clark, with the three new justices taking no part.

Final word on death penalty?

On February 20 the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment an appeal of the death sentence of Charles Silagy. The appeal had raised questions about the constitutionality of Illinois' death penalty statute, centering on the role of state's attorneys in seeking the penalty and the burden on the defendant to prove that it should not be imposed. The questions had caused an initial division in the Illinois Supreme Court and had been perpetuated in the dissents of former Justice Seymour Simon (see Illinois Issues, November 1987, p. 10).

The high court's refusal to consider the case does not mean that it found Illinois' law constitutional. Additional appeals on the same grounds, however, would not appear likely.

F. Mark Siebert

April 1991/Illinois Issues/25

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