Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Drew Peterson Murder Conviction - "Drew's Law" Remains
Courtroom dramas on TV and in the movies often provide the public with a glimpse of the legal process, frequently including tense exchanges between witnesses, attorneys, and judges resulting in an objection to hearsay testimony and a ruling of “sustained” from the bench. However, a recent ruling by the Illinois State Supreme Court could have a sweeping effect on the admissibility of second-hand testimony during a criminal trial.
So What is Hearsay?
Commonly considered rumor or second-hand testimony, hearsay is information reported by a witness that is not based on that witness’s direct knowledge of the facts or incident in question. The presentation of hearsay testimony was largely considered to be a violation of a defendant’s 6th Amendment right to confront one’s accuser. After all, how could a defendant, or their attorney, attempt to question or discredit hearsay if the individual believed to have actually made the statement is not available for cross examination?
A common exception to this rule is that of “deathbed testimony,” which is frequently ruled admissible because the court, rightfully or not, considers a person’s dying words to be more credible, since they would have no reason to provide false information.
A recent ruling in Illinois, however, has legal experts considering how future cases might be decided through the application of hearsay testimony.
Illinois Supreme Court Ruling
In 2014, Illinois resident Drew Peterson was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the murder of his wife . The prosecution relied heavily on hearsay statements of third-party witnesses, who testified that the defendant’s deceased ex-wife (and a missing and presumed deceased fourth wife) made statements implicating the man. Originally ruled accidental, the ex-wife’s cause of death was ruled a homicide after the body was exhumed and re-examined.
Illinois legislators created and passed a hearsay law tailored to this specific case, dubbed “Drew’s Law”, which prosecutors used to secure the original conviction. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the conviction, ruling that there was enough evidence to show that the defendant had likely killed both women to prevent them from testifying against him.
In its ruling, the state’s supreme court further found that the hearsay law passed in Illinois did not violate the defendant’s right to confront his accusers. Attorneys for the defendant indicated they would consider appealing the latest ruling against their client to the United States Supreme Court.
Present a Defense with the Assistance of a Knowledgeable Joliet Criminal Defense Lawyer
Whether you think criminal charges levied against you or a family member are serious or not, it is important to retain an attorney who practices criminal defense law. Representation by an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney will ensure your rights are protected throughout the legal process. The Law Office of Jack L. Zaremba will build a thorough and aggressive defense based on a meticulous review of your case and applicable laws.