The Bar News

Quick take on Friday's Illinois Supreme Court Criminal opinion People v. Boston

People v. Boston

By Kerry J. Bryson, Office of the State Appellate Defender

In 1997, Tonya Pipes was found stabbed to death in her bathtub. A bloody palm print, in Pipes’ blood, was recovered from the wall above the tub.

The print was not immediately matched to anyone.

In 2004, an Assistant State’s Attorney requested that a Cook County grand jury issue a subpoena for defendant’s palm print. The ASA told the grand jury that defendant was Pipes’s ex-boyfriend and that the police had received information that he may have been involved in her killing. The grand jury issued the subpoena, returnable to the ASA or to the Cook County investigators who served it.

The subpoena was served on defendant, who was a resident of Menard Correctional Center, by two Cook County officers. An IDOC employee took defendant’s prints and the officers then delivered those prints to the Illinois State Police Crime Lab. A comparison was done, and the prints were matched to defendant.

In a pre-trial motion to suppress, defendant alleged that the State had abused the grand jury process to supplement a police investigation and that it was error for the prints to be returned to anyone but the grand jury.
The trial court rejected these challenges, noting that the procedure had been “sloppy,” but declining to find that defendant had suffered any prejudice as a result.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court. The appellate court found no Fourth Amendment violation based on defendant’s limited expectation of privacy as an incarcerated felon and the information presented in support of the subpoena. The court noted that while the grand jury process may not be used to further an independent investigation by the police or State’s Attorney, here the police and ASA were acting as agents of the grand jury. Further, there was no prejudice in giving the prints directly to the crime lab because the grand jury could have disclosed the prints and the prints could then have been sent to the lab regardless.

The Supreme Court affirmed. Palm prints are considered “noninvasive physical evidence,” and thus probable cause is not required to subpoena their collection.  Instead, the Illinois Constitution requires only “some showing of individualized suspicion and relevance,” and that showing may be made by an affidavit from the State’s Attorney. Here, there was no question of relevance. The Court concluded that, while the ASA did not provide an affidavit, there was a statement that defendant was the victim’s ex-boyfriend and that the police had received information of his possible involvement. That statement satisfied the individualized suspicion requirement, even though it was not provided by affidavit, because there was no complaint that any of the information provided by the ASA was false.

The Court also addressed the procedural deficiencies and agreed with the trial court that the procedure was “sloppy” and should not be repeated.

The Court declined to grant relief, however, because defendant was not prejudiced.

Justice Burke dissented, noting her strong disapproval of the State’s failure to follow procedure. Justice Burke cited a number of violations, including: (1) the ASA did not offer “evidence” to the grand jury to support the subpoena but only provided her own, unsworn statement; (2) the subpoena said the ASA was designated as an “agent” of the grand jury but the transcripts from the grand jury proceedings did not contain any discussion regarding her being granted agency; (3) the subpoena was not returnable to the grand jury, violating Supreme Court precedent and thwarting grand jury involvement; (4) the subpoena was returnable to the ASA but the prints were sent directly to the crime lab rather than returned to her; and (5) in violation of statute, the ASA did not promptly advise the court that the palm print subpoenaed by the grand jury had been sent to the lab.  Justice Burke stated that the was not just “sloppy,” but was a “complete breakdown of the procedures governing the grand jury process” undermining the integrity of the judicial process. Justice Burke would have reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Posted on February 26, 2016 by Chris Bonjean
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