Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Drew Peterson Rule

Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow received a favor from outgoing Governor Rod Blagojevich when the former governor signed into law the controversial "Drew Peterson" exception to Illinois' hearsay law.

The relevant portion of the "Hearsay exception for intentional murder of a witness" is set forth below:

"(a) A statement is not rendered inadmissible by the hearsay rule if it is offered against a party that has killed the declarant intending to procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness in a criminal or civil proceeding.

(b) While intent to procure the unavailability of the witness is a necessary element for the introduction of the statements, it need not be the sole motivation behind the murder which procured the unavailability of the declarant as a witness."

So, in order to use Ms. Savio's statements against him, the State must prove that Drew Peterson killed Ms. Savio "intending to procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness in a criminal or civil proceeding." That is legalese for he killed her "to prevent her from testifying against him."

Surely the State is not going to say that he killed her to prevent her from testifying at the upcoming murder trial. That is ridiculous. So, they must plan to argue that he killed her to prevent her from testifying against him in their divorce case. I recall reading that she was found dead in the bathtub "shortly before their divorce was finalized." Nothing that I read had any more detail than that. It is unclear whether there were any hearings scheduled in their divorce case at which Ms. Savio was expected to testify. Of course, there is always the possibility that she could testify at the prove-up, so I guess until the divorce was finalized there was always the possibility that she would testify at least once more.

So, unless this law is declared unconstitutional before trial, it is likely that Ms. Savio will be allowed to testify from "beyond the grave." Still, I have my doubts as to the strength of the state's case. It will really be embarrassing if they go to all this trouble to amend the state's criminal code to prosecute one guy, and still lose.

Hearsay exception for intentional murder of a witness. 725 ILCS 5/115-10.6.


Dexter J. Evans said...

I am struggling with this. I think Drew Peterson is quite the scumbag, yet I believe the law would be bad precedent. To say that a criminal defendant should not have the right to cross-examine the declarant is ridiculous. This is especially true if that is the only evidence that they have (which I hope it is not).

Even if the judge lets the statement from Savio in, Peterson is likely to win a constitutional argument. There are 2 reasons why. First, the Confrontation Clause. Secondly, he may have a good argument that the law was drafted specifically to punish him.

As a citizen, I hope this evidence gets in and they convict him. As an attorney, I do not think that it should.

Perry Mason said...

I think the law clearly violates Confrontation Clause contained in the Sixth Amendment. I know judges bend over backwards to allow exceptions to the hearsay rule...or maybe a better way to phrase that is to let things into evidence under the common exceptions to the rule, but this goes well beyond that in my opinion. It's kind of like taking the "Dying Declaration" exception and giving it six cycles of HGH and four of steroids. These letters were written, from what I have read, in the months before her death.

I personally dislike Drew Peterson and his smug arrogance, but where does it end? Despite my disdain for Drew, I like my government to have to play by the rules, and not change them in the middle of the game to suit their evidence/case. If we keep carving out exceptions to the hearsay rule, it eventually becomes like swiss cheese.

I wish I were a law professor, as this could make an excellent final exam question.

long island girl said...

His reaction to his arrest doesn’t make him guilty to what he did. There must be evidences that will support the accusations. We never know who tells the truth so we better process this case with legal process.

Peter C. Bastianen said...

Don't be stupid.