People v. Zimmerman, 2017 IL App (4th) 170055 (March). Episode 336 (Duration 6:31)
Press has a right to read the lascivious motions in limine filed by the defense but sealed by the trial court.
Defendant stands accused of killing his ex wife.
He filed a motion for leave to file motions in limine under seal.
The document referred to the motions at issue as his fourth and fifth motions in limine.
Defendant noted his fourth and fifth motions in limine sought to exclude the admission of evidence that was sensitive, private, and/or inflammatory about himself and others who may be called as witnesses or who are otherwise connected to him.
According to defendant, given the high level of media attention to his case, the evidence sought to be excluded would taint the jury pool if it became public and his right to a fair trial depended on the motions being sealed.
Additionally, defendant noted he was prepared to provide the circuit court with advance copies of the motions at issue for an in camera examination in the event the court needed additional facts.
The trial court agreed to seal the documents.
The intervenors—the Pantagraph, WGLT FM, and the Illinois Press Association—now properly appeal this decision.
More Procedural History
The State did not intend to raise the matters addressed in defendant’s fourth and fifth motions in limine in its case in chief.
Defendant withdrew his motion asking to seal the courtroom, leaving the continued sealing of the fourth and fifth motions in limine as the only remaining contested matter.
Defendant requested the motions continue to be sealed until the jury in his case was impaneled.
The State took no position on the continued sealing of the motions.
After hearing the parties’ arguments, the court allowed, without objection, defendant’s fourth and fifth motions in limine.
The court further ordered the fourth and fifth motions in limine to remain sealed until jury selection and noted any order in limine related to those motions would also be sealed.
The court reasoned the presumption of access did not apply to the motions in limine and ended its analysis with that conclusion.
Presumption of Access
The United States Supreme Court has recognized the existence of a common law right of access to judicial records and documents.
Additionally, in Illinois, section 16(6) of the Clerks of Courts Act (705 ILCS 105/16(6)) provides for the public’s right to review judicial records.
Specifically, that provision provides, in pertinent part, the following:
“All records, dockets and books required by law to be kept by such clerks shall be deemed public records, and shall at all times be open to inspection without fee or reward, and all persons shall have free access for inspection and examination to such records, docket and books, and also to all papers on file in the different clerks’ offices and shall have the right to take memoranda and abstracts thereto.”
Once documents are filed with the court, they lose their private nature and become part of the court file and public components of the judicial proceeding to which the right of access attaches. This right also applies to transcripts of hearings as they are records of trial court proceedings.
Moreover, embedded in the first amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const. amend. I) is a right of access to court records.
However, under all three sources of the right to access court records, the right is not absolute.
Our supreme court has noted the presumption of access can be rebutted by demonstrating suppression is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.
The case law is clear that the right of access extends to the documents filed with the court.
Similarly, in this case once the circuit court granted defendant leave to file the two legal documents, they became court records.
Moreover, in criminal cases, the purpose of a motion in limine is both to (1) determine prior to trial what, if any, evidence ought to be admitted at trial and (2) establish whether any such evidence that would ordinarily be admissible is inadmissible because of improper police proceedings.
Thus, unlike a the search warrant document, motions in limine are generally related to the criminal trial proceedings and not the criminal investigation, which has historically been private. More evidentiary privileges are discussed on the Illinois Evidence Page.
As to the logic test, the court held that access to motions in limine plays a significant positive role in the functioning of the criminal justice process.
Sometimes, such motions expose improper police action, or attorney conduct (i.e., discovery violations).
Moreover, public access to evidentiary decision making enhances both the basic fairness of the criminal trial and the appearance of fairness so essential to public confidence in the system, hearings often are as important as the trial itself, motions in limine can also be critical to the course of a criminal trial.
Thus, motions in limine also pass the logic test.
The circuit court erred by finding the presumption did not attach to the documents at issue. Since the presumption did attach to the documents at issue, the next step is to determine whether the presumption has been rebutted.
The circuit court did not address that issue, and thus the case wa remanded the cause to the circuit court for further proceedings on the intervenors’ objection to defendant’s fourth and fifth motions in limine being under seal.