Blog Topics

Chicago Police Disciplinary Reports; Office of Professional Standards (OPS); Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)

March 30, 2012

Often times a defendant seeks to show that an officer is biased against him by subpoenaing disciplinary records for that officer. The prosecutor or city attorney will often times object and seek to quash the subpoena based on relevance. The judge typically decides whether the evidence is relevant through an in camera inspection of the materials, wherein the judge reviews the materials to determine whether the defense is entitled to receive them.

Often time, the defendant’s theory is that the arresting officer has, for several years, engaged in harassment, unlawful searches and seizures, false arrests, fabrication of evidence, and physical abuse of arrestees, including defendant. The argument is that the police officer’s testimony is unbelievable due to his bias, interest and/or motive to testify.

It is well established the widest latitude allowable should be given to a defendant on cross-examination. People v. Barr; People v. Naujokas, 25 Ill.2d 32, 182 N.E.2d 700 (1962). Defendant’s right to confront witnesses against him, including cross-examination for the purpose of showing any interest, bias, prejudice or motive to testify falsely is guaranteed by both the federal and state constitutions. U.S. Const., amends. VI, XIV; Ill. Const. 1970, art. I. The trial court has no discretionary power to deny the defendant the right to cross-examine the witness to show interest, bias, or motive. People v. Thompson; People v. Kellas, 72 Il. App.3d 445, 389 N.E. 2d 1382 (1977).  The bias of the arresting officers against defendant can be evidenced by pattern of harassment and false arrests engaged in by the officers. Race can also be a factor where an officer is prejudiced against members of defendant’s ethnic group.

The exposure of hostile motivation of a witness in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination. Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308 (1974).  Such cross examination may concern any matter that goes to explain, modify, discredit, or destroy the testimony of the witness. People v. Aughinbaugh, 36 Ill.2d 320, 223 N.E. 2d 117 (1964). The jury is entitled to the details of the theory of defense so it can make an informed judgment, and thus the right to cross-examine is satisfied when counsel is permitted to expose to the jury the facts from which jurors, as the sole triers of fact and credibility, could appropriately draw inferences relating to the reliability of the witness. Davis, 415 U.S. at 318.

A defendant’s opportunity to cross-examine the biases and motives of the arresting officer should not be limited. Limitation of a defendant’s cross-examination of the bias or motive of a witness may violate a defendant’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him and therefore, a trial court should be unwilling to grant a motion in limine brought by the State if the result will be, for all practical purposes, an evisceration of the defendant’s theory of the case. People v. Prevo, 302 Ill.App.3d 1038, 1050 (1999). The test is whether limitation on cross-examination created a substantial danger of prejudice by denying defendant his right to test the truth of the testimony. People v. Harris, 123 Ill.2d 113,145 (1988).  When applying the aforementioned test, a substantial danger of prejudice would be created were the Court to deny defendant the opportunity to test the truth of the arresting officers.

In resolving issues of credibility, the testimony of a police officer should be evaluated by the trier of fact in the same manner that the testimony of any witness is evaluated. A witness is not more or less credibly simply because that person is a police officer. However, the right to witness confrontation is satisfied only when counsel is permitted to expose to the jury facts from which jurors can draw inferences relating to the credibility of the witness. Davis, 415 U.S. at 318. Restrictions on defendant’s cross-examination of the officers in this matter would deny the defendant his right to test the truth of the officers’ testimony. The truth of what happened on the date of an alleged offense is a fact question. In order to assist the trier of fact in making this determination, the nature of the relationship between the defendant and the arresting officers is critical. These arguments can support a defendant’s request that a court find relevant subpoenaed disciplinary records of arresting officers.

If these issues apply to your situation, please contact John McNamara for help.