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Judicial Rulings

U.S. Supreme Court slams Illinois law on new political parties

Starting a new party in Illinois' complex political landscape became a bit easier after the U.S. Supreme Court partially overruled the Illinois Supreme Court's decision on efforts of the Harold Washington Party to run candidates in Cook County. Two weeks before the November 1991 election the U.S. court stayed the Illinois decision without explanation and thus allowed the party's candidates to appear on the ballot.

Illinois law on establishing a new party on the ballot (see Illinois Revised Statutes 1949, ch. 46, sec. 10-2) is too complicated for a quick summary, but as interpreted by the the Illinois Supreme Court it might have required 50,000 petition signatures for a countywide candidate but only 25,000 for a statewide candidate. In a county like Cook voting is done in two units — Chicago as one and the rest of the county as the other— with 25,000 signatures required in each for a countywide candidate. Under this law, if one candidate for a county office failed to achieve the required 25,000 signatures in one of the units, the entire slate was ineligible.

The Harold Washington Party had previously run candidates in Chicago, and it was now trying to move into county elections. The U.S. court ruled out the requirement for 25,000 signatures in each unit and pointed out: "This is not our first time to consider the constitutionality of an Illinois law governing the number of nominating signatures the organizers of a new party must gather to field candidates in local elections," citing Illinois Elections Bd. v Socialist Workers Party (440 U.S. 173 (1979)). It suggested ways in which new concerns raised in this case might be addressed without breaching First and 14th Amendment rights of access to the ballot. Justice David H. Souter wrote the opinion in Norman et al v Reed et al (No. 90-1126), filed January 14.

What next for strict liability? Popcorn?

A food manufacturer is strictly liable for what goes into the product, even if an undesirable object such as a pecan shell is natural to the ingredients. The Illinois Supreme Court's March 12 decision replaced the foreign-natural test that had previously applied in such situations with a test of reasonable expectation.

In this case a consumer broke a tooth on a pecan shell in caramel candy manufactured by Nestle. The trial court had applied the foreign-natural test used in some jurisdictions and applied in some earlier Illinois cases. Under this test a manufacturer would be strictly liable for foreign matter in a food product but not for a substance natural to the ingredients, unless negligence could be proved. Since it is common knowledge, for example, that pecans come in hard shells and that a shell fragment might bob up in pecan candy, the consumer would be under obligation to "think and chew carefully." Saying that this "comes too close to the outdated and discredited doctrine of caveat emptor," the court established a reasonable expectation test: "Would a reasonable consumer expect that a given product might contain the substance or matter causing a particular injury?"

This ruling brings products such as Nestle's under strict product liability. The court said that manufacturers can avoid liability by simply placing an adequate warning of the possibility of injury on the product's container.

Justice Charles E. Freeman wrote for the majority in Jackson v Nestle-Beich Inc. (Docket No. 71794). In dissent Justice James D. Heiple saw the foreign-natural test as a general method for the judicial system to handle food-related injuries with greater economy than by the case-by-case method he believes will result from strict liability. He raised the spectre of increased costs to manufacturers and ultimately to the public because "it extends to all manufacturers and purveyors of food products including the neighborhood baker, the hot dog vendor and the popcorn man. Watch out Orville Redenbacher!"

Court holsters radar guns when police beyond city limits

A local police officer cannot use data from a radar gun to stop and ticket speeders outside of corporation limits, according to a March 12 Illinois Supreme Court decision. The court said this was stretching police authority outside the local jurisdiction.

In this case a Sleepy Hollow police officer, parked seven-tenths of a mile beyond the town line, used his radar gun to time a motorist doing 80 in a 50 mile per hour zone. He issued a ticket. The motorist claimed that the officer was outside his jurisdiction.

Police may not make arrests outside of their jurisdictions except when there has been fresh pursuit. The state argued that under interpretations of the Code of Criminal Procedure (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 38, sec. 107-3) a police officer outside of his jurisdiction has the same right to make a citizen's arrest as anyone else.

The court said, "Although it is hypothetically possible for a private citizen to obtain a radar gun and conduct his own surveillance of a road, we believe the possibility of that happening is remote." The court disposed of suggested precedents since when the officer used the radar gun, he was not investigating a particular person or a suspected crime, nor did he have probable cause to believe that a crime had been committed. It agreed with the trial court that allowing this sort of citizen's arrest "would virtually abolish the general rule regarding an officer's power outside of his jurisdiction."

Justice William G. Clark wrote the majority opinion in People v Lahr (Docket No. 71516). Justice Charles E. Freeman's special concurrence objected to the state's "backdoor approach to proper law enforcement" and raised two issues when on-duty police were outside their city limits: reduced police protection within the city and a municipality's liability for police actions beyond corporate boundaries. Chief Justice Benjamin K. Miller and Justice James D. Heiple wrote dissenting opinions that perceived a diminution of a police officer's power to make a citizen's arrest in the light of the availability of radar guns to the general public. Heiple, in passing, observed "that while the original purpose of ... highway speed laws was public safety, this purpose has, in substantial measure, given way to the purposes of earning bounty revenues for State and local governments and of furnishing employment for hundreds of policemen."

Possessing incomplete auto titles: when knowledge may be innocent or criminal

The Illinois Supreme Court has modified an earlier ruling concerning possession of incomplete automobile titles. Under the Vehicle Code it is a Class 4 felony to possess such a title (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1989, ch. 95 1/2, sec. 4-104), but the court had ruled that in order to be found guilty a person had to know that the title was incomplete (People v Gean, 143 Ill. 2d, 281 (1991); see Illinois Issues, July 1991, p. 32).

In considering the present case the court found that "there are myriad situations where a person could knowingly possess an incomplete title for innocent reasons." The court ruled: "We accordingly modify the 'knowledge' required in Gean to include that the accused individual possessed the incomplete title with a criminal knowledge, in other words, knowledge plus criminal purpose."

Justice James D. Heiple wrote the March 12 opinion in People v Tolliver (Docket No. 71357). Justice Charles E. Freeman's special concurrence held that Gean is sufficient as it stands: "'Knowledge' under the [Criminal] Code implies criminal knowledge." He found that the majority decision confuses knowledge and intent and that " 'intent' requires a higher degree of culpability than does 'knowledge' under the Code."

More on Miranda

The Illinois Supreme Court has refused to interpret protections against self-incrimination in the Bill of Rights of the Illinois Constitution (see Art. I, sec. 10) more liberally than those of the U.S. Constitution. Its decision was filed March 19.

In this case a suspect, while being held on robbery charges, was read his Miranda rights and then questioned about a separate murder case. At his arraignment on the robbery warrant

May 1992/lllinois Issues/27

Judicial Rulings

he requested counsel and was assigned to the public defender. The following day he was again advised of his Miranda rights and questioned about the murder, to which he confessed. At trial he moved to suppress the confession on the grounds that he had not been represented by counsel, which he had requested at the robbery arraignment.

While his appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court was pending, the U.S. Supreme Court decided McNeil v Wisconsin (111 S. Ct. 2204). This case distinguished between a Sixth Amendment right to counsel as specific only to the offense being tried and a Fifth Amendment Miranda request for counsel during interrogation as applicable to any offense. The Illinois Supreme Court said, "We find that the Supreme Court's analysis and conclusion in McNeil adequately safeguard the competing objectives of effective law enforcement and an individual's privilege against self-incrimination confronting us."

Justice William G. Clark wrote the opinion in People v Perry (Docket No. 71289). The same issue was raised and similarly treated in People v Maxwell (Docket No. 67022), opinion by Chief Justice Benjamin K. Miller, Justices James D. Heiple and Charles E. Freeman not participating.

Cops not immune from arrest for bad driving

Except in an emergency, a police officer generally has to obey the law in operating a motor vehicle. The Illinois Supreme Court made clear in a March 19 decision that no public official is immune from lawsuits when "negligence that arises from the ordinary operation of a motor vehicle is based on the breach of the duties that every driver owes to every other driver."

A state trooper was answering a call for assitance by Joliet police and collided with another vehicle while he was driving the wrong way on a one-way street. He had been travelling for 15 minutes near the speed limit and may not have had his red lights flashing at the time. He claimed both sovereign immunity and immunity of public officials against the plaintiff's suit for damages.

Sovereign immunity protects "official" acts of state employees to prevent control over the actions and policies of the state. The court ruled: "Where an employee of the State, although acting within the scope of his employment, is charged with breaching a duty that arose independently of his State employment, a suit against him will not be shielded by sovereign immunity." The doctrine of immunity of public officials applies "only to those acts which are unique to the particular public office." Ordinary driving decisions do not fall into this category.

Justice Michael A. Bilandic wrote the opinion in Currie v Lao (Docket No. 70566); Justice James D. Heiple did not participate.

F. Mark Siebert

28/May 1992/Illinois Issues

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