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People v. John L. Graham, Jr., Appellate Court of Illinois, Fifth District

406 Ill.App.3d 1183 (2011)

Nature of the case:

Rape of a child

Facts and Issues on Appeal:

Defendant raped his daughter for two years until she reported the rapes and was removed from his home. Once placed in Arkansas with her grandparents, the victim began treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, both brought on by the sexual abuse she endured. During pre-trial discovery, the defendant learned that the victim was in counseling in Arkansas and was being medicated. He requested copies of the victim’s mental health records. He argued that the records would affirm that the victim exhibited signs of mental illness before living with him and therefore was an unreliable witness. The court denied his request, noting that it would not grant him a fishing expedition when he could not establish what specific evidence in the records showed mental illness that was unrelated to the rapes. The defendant was convicted and filed an appeal.

On appeal, the defendant argued that his fair trial rights were violated when he was denied access to the victim’s mental health records. The court disagreed, reasoning as follows:

Ruling & Rationale:

The defendant was not entitled to the victim’s privileged mental health file because he failed to identify what was in the records that would affect the victim’s credibility should it exist. Without this showing of need for particular information, there was no justification to violate the victim’s privacy. Further, the Illinois court had no authority to order the release of any records in Arkansas, privileged or not, because Illinois had no power beyond its own state lines. Thus, the request for records could not have been granted even if there had been a sufficient showing of need because the court had no authority to compel another state to comply with its orders.

Editorial Comment

The power of state court officials to issue subpoenas and court orders on behalf of criminal defendants against private nonparties (such as victims) is nonexistent as a constitutional matter, and to the extent it exists as a matter of state law, does not extend beyond its own borders. Prosecutors and advocates should use this case to insist that offenders be denied access to any and all records, documents and other information that exist outside the state where the prosecution is occurring, regardless of whether the information sought is privileged or confidential. They should also consider requesting sanctions for abuse of process when such material is sought.

Submitted By: Katherine Ramsey -- Law Student

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