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Supreme Court Refuses to Expand Rule on Illegally Obtained Evidence

January 10, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, today refused to create a new exception to the rule barring unlawfully obtained evidence from criminal trials.

The court ruled in an Illinois case that statements a criminal defendant makes after an unlawful arrest may not be used by prosecutors to contradict a defense witness’ trial testimony.

The so-called exclusionary rule, created by the court 75 years ago, generally prohibits the use at trial of any illegally obtained evidence. But the court later carved out an exception by allowing prosecutors to use such evidence to contradict a defendant’s own trial testimony.

Today, the justices refused to expand that exception to let prosecutors use such evidence to rebut or discredit other witnesses’ testimony.

The Illinois Supreme Court was wrong to allow such an expansion, Justice William J. Brennan wrote.

″Finding this extension inconsistent with the balance of values underlying our previous applications of the exclusionary rule, we reverse,″ Brennan said.

He was joined by three liberal allies, Justices Thurgood Marshall, John Paul Stevens and Harry A. Blackmun, and by Justice Byron R. White, usually one of the court’s most conservative members on ″law-and-order″ issues.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia dissented.

Writing for the dissenters, Kennedy said, ″Where the jury is misled by false testimony, otherwise subject to flat contradiction by evidence illegally seized, the protection of the exclusionary rule is perverted into a license to use perjury ... free from the risk of confrontation with prior inconsistent utterances.″

The Illinois court had voted to allow the introduction of illegally obtained evidence in the trial of Darryl James, sentenced to 30 years in prison for a 1982 murder.

James was 15 when arrested in his mother’s beauty parlor for a pair of Aug. 30, 1982 shootings. He was tried as an adult.

Prosecutors said James shot and killed Geliria Boyd and wounded another youth in a late-night confrontation on a south Chicago street.

Five prosecution witnesses identified James as the triggerman, and testified that on the night of the crime he had long, reddish-brown hair.

At his trial, James had short, black hair.

James did not testify but two defense witnesses testified in his behalf. One said that James had short, black hair the night of the shootings.

Prosecutors then won the judge’s permission to let a police detective testify that James, when arrested, said he had long, reddish-brown hair the night of the crime and that he had his hair dyed and cut at his mother’s shop.

The judge initially had disallowed such testimony, ruling that James’ arrest was unlawful because police at the time did not have a court warrant or probable cause to suspect him of committing a crime.

Today’s decision means James is entitled to a new trial, at which the statement obtained during his unlawful arrest will not be allowed as evidence.

But the five eyewitness identifications could be used at the new trial.

In a separate criminal law decision involving evidence, the court ruled by a 6-3 vote that federal juries may be told about a defendant’s alleged prior criminal conduct even if a previous trial on those charges ended in an acquittal.

White wrote the court’s majority opinion in that case, and Brennan, Marshall and Stevens dissented.

The ruling upheld the bank robbery conviction and 70-year prison sentence of Reuben Dowling, convicted of robbing $7,000 from the First Pennsylvania Bank in Frederiksted, St. Croix, in the Virgin Islands on July 8, 1985.

Federal appeals courts had been divided over whether such evidence could be used.

The cases are James vs. Illinois, 88-6075, and Dowling vs. U.S., 88-6025.

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