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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, November 26, 2007

That Other Illinois Police Officer: Former Illinois Officer Has Convctions Reversed After Accuser's Prior Felony Conviction Is Discovered

While the bulk of the media attention has focused on Illinois Police Sergeant Drew Peterson, another Illinois police officer quietly had his conviction for official misconduct and criminal sexual abuse reversed last Monday.  Former Illinois police officer David L. Lewis was accused by several women of using his position to sexually assault them.  The charges brought as a result of these accusations were separated, with Lewis being given separate trials for each of the accusations.

His first trial was held in October, with his accuser serving as the prosecution's main witness.  She testified that after 3:00 A.M. on March 17, 2006, Lewis pulled over her vehicle as she was driving home from her job at a strip club.  She claimed that after Lewis pulled her over, he put one hand behind her neck and the other between her legs and forced her to kiss him.  The accuser also testified that after pulling her over, Lewis tried to call her three times on her cell phone.  Based in large part on the accuser's testimony, Lewis was convicted.

The problem with the case, however, was that neither the prosecutor nor the accuser disclosed the accuser's full legal name or the fact that she has a felony conviction.  On Monday, Vermilion County CIrcuit Judge Claudia Anderson thus reversed Lewis' convictions because, as defense counsel noted, the accuser's felony conviction would have been "admissible to impeach her credibility."

Defense counsel's reasoning is correct.  Illinois has not adopted a statutory counterpart to Federal Rule of Evidence 609, which allows for, inter alia, a witness to be impeached by prior felony convictions.  In People v. Montgomery, 268 N.E.2d 695 (Ill. 1971), however, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that witnesses could be impeached by felony convictions.  And it is well established that a new trial is warranted under Brady when the prosecution fails to timely disclose material exculpatory evidence, including evidence which could be used to impeach a key proseuction witness, to the defendant.

Finally, I note that defense counsel was correct in focusing on the admissibility of the evidence.  While I have consistently argued that Brady should cover not only admissible exculpatory evidence but also inadmissible exculpatory evidence, Illinois appears to be among those states limiting the Brady doctrine to admissible evidence. See People v. Pecoraro, 677 N.E.2d 875, 886 (Ill. 1997).

-CM      

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