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Monday, April 7, 2008

Bullet In The Head: Illinois Judge Makes Seemingly Erroneous [EDIT: Correct] Hearsay Ruling In Attempted Murder Case

An Illinois judge has made a seemingly strange [EDIT: correct] hearsay ruling, which appears to have played a large role in a defendant being acquitted of the most serious charges against him.  Last week,  Scott Guidotti was on trial, facing charges of attempted murder with a firearm, home invasion, and aggravated battery with a firearm (all Class X felonies), as well as aggravated discharge of a firearm (a Class 1 felony) in connection with an incident in Tazewell County, Illinois in 2006.

That incident occurred on July 19, 2006, when officers responded to a report of shots fired at 1501 Highland Avenue.  After their arrival, officers found that three men had been in the house when the shooting began.  According to court records, police discovered that 31-year-old Scott Roberts of Pekin had a bullet wound to the back of his head.

Roberts testified that he was in the kitchen of the house at 1501 Highland Avenue preparing alcoholic beverages when bullets began flying through the front of the house on the night in question.  Roberts claimed that he thereafter ran out of the back door and around the house where he met Guidotti, who was allegedly holding a semi-automatic handgun.  Roberts then claimed to have tackled Guidotti in the driveway of the home, where a fist fight began.  Roberts claimed that after several seconds of fighting with Guidotti, he heard the gun fire twice, striking him in the head once.

In his defense, Guidotti testified that on the night in question, he began getting obscene phone calls from someone at 1501 Highland Ave., where his cousin resides. He said that he went to the house, whereupon Roberts came outside laughing and pointed a gun at him. According to Guidotti, after Roberts fired a round at Guidotti's truck, the two men began fighting, and, during the fight, a bullet was fired into the house. Guidotti told jurors that next, Roberts rushed through a wooden fence and fell to the ground, resulting in a third bullet being fired.  Guidotti said he jumped on Roberts in an attempt to control the gun and that while the two wrestled in the driveway, two more rounds were fired. Guidotti said he never noticed that Roberts had been shot.

There were several other witnesses in the case, but I will only focus on the testimony of Eric Guidotti, the defendant's brother.  Eric testified that at about 10:00 P.M. on the night of the incident, the defendant knocked on his front door.  “He looked like he had been run over by a truck,” Eric said, as he described his brother's wounds.  Eric then proceeded to detail events that followed and eventually began testifying about what the defendant told him about the incident  However, before Eric could relay to the jury what his brother said had happened, Tazewell County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Green objected to the brother's comments, citing it as "hearsay" testimony. After a short recess, Judge James Stewart of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court agreed with Green and only allowed Eric to testify about his own actions that night.  Scott was thereafter acquitted on the Class X felony charges and only convicted of the Class 1 felony of aggravated discharge of a firearm

If these facts are accurate. the judge's ruling does not make sense [EDIT: It makes sense].  It is well established in Illinois case law that "extrajudicial statements made by a party opponent are not excludable as hearsay." People v. Simpson, 369 N.E.2d 1248, 1252 (Ill. 1977).  Thus, Scott's statements to his brother should have been admissible as part of the prosecution's case as admissions of a party opponent -- the criminal defendant.

EDIT:  However, as the commenter below notes, the objection was made by Tazewell County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Green, which presumably means that Eric was going to testify about statements that Scott made which helped his case.  Thus, it appears that the statements were not offered by the prosecution against a party opponent but instead by the defendant in support of his case.  Thus, Scott's alleged statements were hearsay, and the judge correctly precluded testimony about them.  I misread the articles on the testimony and apologize for the error.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2008/04/ruled-hearsay-b.html

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Comments

You write: "It is well established in Illinois case law that "extrajudicial statements made by a party opponent are not excludable as hearsay." People v. Simpson, 369 N.E.2d 1248, 1252 (Ill. 1977). Thus, Scott's statements to his brother should have been admissible as part of the prosecution's case as admissions of a party opponent -- the criminal defendant."

Your rendition of the facts doesn't say who called Eric. But you say that "Tazewell County Assistant State's Attorney Michael Green objected" to the statement as hearsay. I am guessing that he was not representing the defendant. Thus the offer was not made in the prosecution's case, but in that of the defendant's and thus the ruling is correct and consistent with the law as you state it, because the statement was being offered by the party who made the statement and not by the party opponent.

Posted by: Louis Schepp | Apr 7, 2008 8:29:08 AM

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