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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, February 15, 2008

It Seems So Juvenile: Appellate Court Of Illinois Reverses Convictions Based Upon Trial Court's Erroneous Juvenile Impeachment Ruling

The Appellate Court of Illinois' recent opinion in People v. Newborn is the latest example of a court failing to properly apply the correct analysis in determining whether a conviction is admissible for impeachment purposes.  In Newborn, the defendant was convicted of armed robbery as a juvenile based in large part on the testimony of one of the State's key witnesses, Bobby King.  King, an adult, was either an occurrence witness or a participant in the crime, depending on conflicting testimony that was given at trial.

Immediately before jury selection, defense counsel had requested and received access to juvenile court records regarding King's delinquency adjudications in two prior 2002 cases.  Each of these adjudications involved juvenile felonies.  Prior to King's testimony, the State moved to bar questioning about his juvenile criminal record.  Defense counsel countered that he intended to impeach King's credibility with two prior juvenile adjudications.  The court took judicial notice of King's prior adjudications, but it did not allow the defendant to utlize those adjudications for impeachment purposes, noting that there was an absence of case law permitting admission of a prior juvenile adjudication for purposes of impeachment.

Unfortunately, this conclusion was incorrect.  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 609(d), "[e]vidence of juvenile adjudications is generally not admissible under this rule. The court may, however, in a criminal case allow evidence of a juvenile adjudication of a witness other than the accused if conviction of the offense would be admissible to attack the credibility of an adult and the court is satisfied that admission in evidence is necessary for a fair determination of the issue of guilt or innocence."  While Illinois does not have a statutory counterpart to this federal rule, it has incorporated this language into its case law.  See People v. Montgomery, 268 N.E.2d 695, 699 (Ill. 1971).

Thus, while juvenile adjudications are rarely deemed admissible to impeach, they are admissible (1) in criminal cases, (2) against witnesses other than the accused, when (3) the court determines that the adjudications are necessary for a fair determination of guilt or innocence.  Clearly, elements one and two were satisfied in the Newborn case, and while element three is almost never satisfied, the Appeallate Court of Illinois determined that it could not resolve the issue because it was impossible to ascretain from the record the nature of King's delinquency adjudications.  Therefore the court reversed Newborn's convictions and remanded for a new trial.  Without knowing the nature of King's delinquency adjudications, this seems to me the only decision that the court could have made. 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2008/02/illinois-609-ht.html

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