Trials and Verdicts
Section 1: The state of Illinois vs. Drew Peterson
The case was heard at the circuit court of the Twelfth Judiciary Circuit, the Appellate Court in the Will County, Illinois. It was brought before Justice Holdridge (who delivered the judgment), Justice Schmidt (presiding Judge) and Justice Carter.
In this case, the defendant was Drew Peterson, a middle-aged American man accused of murdering his third wife. Kathleen Savio, the deceased, was found dead in her bathtub in 2004. It was an appeal case seeking to review a judgment previously delivered by Justice Stephen D White, the presiding judge in the Circuit Court of the Will County.
The legal issue was to determine whether hearsay statements were admissible in court as valid evidence against the accused. The state had filed about five appeals from previous rulings consolidated in People v. Peterson, 2011 IL App (3d) 100513, 75.
In this case, the petitioner argued that the Circuit Court had made an error by denying it the right to admit hearsay evidence against Drew Peterson. It argued that the right to admit hearsay under the doctrine of “forfeit by wrongdoing”, which is allowed under the common law, was erroneously denied, making it impossible to indict the defendant.
The Illinois Police investigated the death of Savio and sought pathological evidence from a qualified pathologist. According to the autopsy, Kathleen had drowned in a bathtub in her house. The jury argued that the death could have been due to an accidental drowning in the tub. Thus, nobody was charged. However, Peterson’s fourth wife, Stacy Peterson, disappeared in October 2007 at the time the couple was discussing a divorce. As the police conducted a search, they suspected murder and connected the case to that of Savio. Therefore, they sought a court order to exhume her remains for further analysis. The second pathologist cited homicide in the case of Savio. The state of Illinois filed a case against Drew Peterson, accusing him of the death of Savio. The state argued that Stacy and Kathleen had made statements in their divorce, which could be admitted in court as hearsay evidence as described in the code of criminal procedure Act 1963 section 115 as well as under the doctrine of “forfeit by wrongdoing” in the common law.
After a lengthy analysis of the evidences from both side, the Panel held that the Circuit Court of the Will County had erred in denying the state the right to present the statements of hearsay under the law and the doctrine of “forfeit by wrongdoing”. Therefore, the panel reversed the decision of the Will County court, thereby remanding the case for further proceedings.
Why was this court the most appropriate for hearing the case? The answer to this question is simple. The court was the second last in the judiciary process to hear the case before it reached the Supreme Court of Illinois. In this context, it is worth noting that the court was responsible for determining whether the circuit court had erred in its decision. In addition, the case is criminal in nature, dealing with first-degree murder. As such, it was important for the state to appeal the case. Otherwise, the defendant could have found an easy way of proving innocence in a matter that he was most likely involved.
Section 2: Plea bargain as an alternative to trial
In the US law, plea bargaining is allowed by the courts. The bargaining is a process in which the prosecution and the defendant come to an agreement that the accused agree to plead guilty to some charges. In exchange, the prosecutor agrees to recommend a lenient sentence against the defendant (Garner, 2010). In criminal cases that carry heavy penalties, the defendant may agree to plead guilty to some few parts of the charges in order to receive lenient sentence (Garner, 2010). The purpose is to evade a lengthy, costly and laborious court processes for the trial (Garner, 2010). It may also allow the defendant avoid the risk of heavy penalties during the trial.
Lafler v. Cooper
This trial is an example of a case in which the defendant accepted a plea bargain as an alternative to trial (Heumann, 2012). In this case, Lafler, the defendant, was charged with assault as intent to commit murder plus three other criminal offenses (Supreme Court of the United States, 2012). A plea bargaining was made and a decision was made. The decision required the accused to plead guilty to some charges in exchange for a lenient sentence of between 51 and 85 months as required by law. When communicating with the court, Lafler accepted the offer to plead guilty for the charges in exchange of the lenient charges (Supreme Court of the United States, 2012). However, he rejected the offer after his attorney convicted him that he had been short-charged. The court ruled against the defendant and handed him a maximum sentence of up to 185 months in jail. He appealed the case, seeking to reverse the court’s decision, claiming that his attorney had given him an ineffective assistance. However, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the decision by the district court, thus rejecting Lafler’s claim (Supreme Court of the United States, 2012).
In my opinion, justice was served because I find it necessary for the defendant to provide enough evidence that he could have convinced the court that the advice was so deficient that it violates the Sixth Amendment. It is necessary for a defendant to show evidence that his or her attorney is responsible for the rejection.
Section 3: wrongful sentence and vindication
The case of Ivan Henry vs. State, which was accused of sexual assaults and sentenced for 27 years in prison in 1983 (Matas, 2013). The court had considered the evidence given by the prosecution that photograph given by the police lineup. The assault victims easily picked him out from a police line-up. In total, there were eight victims in the case. He was charged with rape, attempted rape and sexual assault (Matas, 2013). He was declared dangerous and put under indefinite custody awaiting trial. The prosecution used eyewitnesses and voice identification from the victims as evidence in court. However, 27 oral and written victims’ statements to the police were not disclosed (Matas, 2013). In addition, biological and forensic materials were not reported.
However, in 2012, a three- member panel found that all the 1983 charges were unreasonable. They concluded that Henry had been wrongly accused (Matas, 2013).
A key aspect of the case is the prosecution’s lack of evidence to support the charges. In 1983, the police and the prosecution had erred in relying on eyewitnesses as well as voice recognition in a case carrying heavy penalty. In addition, failure to consider biological and forensic evidence was a grave error by the prosecution and the court.
A possible remedy to this case could have been found if the due processes of biological tests, including DNA molecular forensic and forensic trace element analysis were done
Garner, B. A., (2010). Black’s law dictionary. St. Paul, MN: West Group.
Heumann, M. (2012). Plea Bargaining: The Experiences of Prosecutors, Judges, and Defense Attorneys. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Matas, R. (2013). After 27 years in jail, B.C. court says man was wrongly convicted. TheGlobe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/after-27-years-in-jail-bc-court-says-man-was-wrongly-convicted/article1381214/
Supreme Court of the United States. (2012). Lafler v. Cooper. 376 Fed. Appx. 563 (2012). Retrieved from http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-209.pdf