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Judicial Rulings

Admissible and inadmissible

Two opinions of the Illinois Supreme Court cited present perceptions of the scientific community in order to decide admissibility of two technical processes in evidence. These rulings in appeals of two murder convictions set precedents for matters that will probably arise in a number of criminal cases.

Central to one case were identification of the defendant's fingerprints on a plastic garbage bag and determination of the victim's blood type from dried blood stains on clothing. The latent prints were developed by "supergluing" — exposure to the fumes of ordinary superglue available on the market. The blood stains were first typed in the conventional manner and then subjected to electrophoresis, in which an electric current breaks down the enzymes into component protein for more exact identification.

The court rejected the defendant's claim that non-police experts should have testified on the validity of the processes. Both were carried out by Chicago police officers with years of experience in their use. For supergluing, the court said, "We think this is sufficient to establish that the technique is generally accepted by the relevant scientific community." It took the same position on electrophoresis, besides citing its acceptance in other jurisdictions.

The decision in People v. Eyler (Docket No. 65371) was unanimous, with an opinion by Justice John J. Stamos.

In the other case the testimony of a major prosecution witness was substantiated by a Chicago police officer after his memory had been stimulated by hypnosis. The court rejected this testimony, saying, "The relevant scientific community not only does not generally accept that hypnotically induced recall is accurate, but the legal and scientific literature is now replete with articles imploring courts to reject such evidence. '' It felt that juries should not be required to weigh such evidence because '' [t]he public has been . . . led to believe that it [hypnosis] provides a panacea for lost memory."

The court considered the matter important enough to overturn the conviction and order a new trial. Justice Howard C. Ryan wrote the opinion in People v. Zayas (Docket No. 65701) with a special concurrence by Justice Ben Miller.

MRAI constitutional

The complex provisions of the statute on Minors Requiring Authoritative Intervention (MRAI) (see Illinois Revised Statutes 1987, ch. 37, sec. 803-1 et seq.) were found constitutional by an October 25 decision of the Illinois Supreme Court.

The act defines a minor requiring authoritative intervention as "[A]ny minor under 18 years of age (1) who is (a) absent from home without consent of parent, guardian or custodian, or (b) beyond the control of his or her parent, guardian or custodian, in circumstances which constitute a substantial or immediate danger to the minor's physical safety. . ." (sec. 803-3). The act sets up an elaborate process including waiting periods under limited custody before adjudication as an MRAI, notification of parents, restoration to parents of a child willing to go, alternative residential placement of unwilling children, interim crisis intervention services, etc.

The court depended on these provisions in ruling that the act does not violate substantive and procedural due process. Substantive due process concerns laws that affect fundamental rights. The court pointed out that the parents' right to raise children is fundamental and that only a compelling state interest embodied in a narrowly drawn statute may interfere with such a right. It found that "the MRAI significantly interferes with the family relationship. . ." but that this is justified by the state's compelling interest in safeguarding the welfare of children. This case involved runaways, and the court said, "When a minor detaches himself or herself from parental authority by running away from home, the minor jeopardizes his or her welfare." It found that "through the MRAI, the State deals practically with a situation created by the minor and the parents." It concluded that "the MRAI is narrowly tailored to achieve the State's purpose of protecting the welfare of minors."

The court reviewed in detail questions of the constitutionality of the act's procedures. In general it rejected arguments of unconstitution-ality because the purpose of the procedures is to correct the problem. The act gives the court a wide range of possible actions, many of which aim at returning the child to the home. Thus the court found no possibility of erroneous deprivation of parental rights, nor unequal treatment of parents of MRAIs when compared to parents accused of abuse or neglect.

The opinion in People v. R.G. (Docket Nos. 66929, 66999, 67184 cons.) was written by Justice Horace L. Calvo, with Justice Ben Miller's dissent finding violation of both substantive and procedural due process.

F. Mark Siebert

December 1989 | Illinois Issues | 25

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