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The People v. Fiddler

OPINION FILED MARCH 24, 1970.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,

v.

MORRIS FIDDLER, APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Appellate Court for the First District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. RICHARD J. FITZGERALD, Judge, presiding. MR. JUSTICE SCHAEFER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied May 26, 1970.

A jury in the circuit court of Cook County found the defendant, Morris Fiddler, guilty of the murder of Jayne Levin and he was sentenced to a term of 20 to 30 years in the penitentiary. The Appellate Court, First District, affirmed (102 Ill. App.2d 319), and we granted leave to appeal.

The facts are fully stated in the appellate court opinion and we restate them here only as they pertain to the single issue before us. At the trial the only direct evidence offered by the prosecution as to the cause of death was a certified copy of the coroner's certificate of death issued by the county clerk. The entire certified copy was received in evidence and is in the record, but the jury was permitted only to hear the following statement derived from it: "In the medical opinion of the Coroner's office, * * * as recorded in the Coroner's office, the cause of death was ligature strangulation." The dispute in this court centers upon the admissibility of this statement.

To support admissibility the State relies upon section 25 of the Vital Statistics Act. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1967, ch. 111 1/2, par. 73-25.) The pertinent provisions of that section are:

"(2) The certification of birth shall contain only the name, sex, date of birth, and place of birth, of the person to whom it relates, and file number; and none of the other data on the cerificate of birth except as authorized under subsection (5) of this section.

"(3) The certification of death shall contain only the name, sex, date of death, and place of death of the person to whom it relates, and file number; and none of the other data on the certificate of death except as authorized under subsection (5) of this Section.

"(4) A certified copy of a certificate shall be issued:

(a) Upon the order of a court of record; or

(b) In case of a birth certificate, upon the specific written request by the person, if of legal age, or by a parent or other legal representative of the person to whom the record of birth relates; or

(c) Upon the specific written request by a department of the state or a municipal corporation or the federal government; or

(d) In case of a death or fetal death certificate, upon specific written request of a person, or his duly authorized agent, having a personal or property right interest in the record.

"(5) Any certification or certified copy issued pursuant to this Section shall show the date of registration; and copies issued from records marked `delayed,' `amended,' or `court order' shall be similarly marked and show the effective date.

"(6) Any certification or certified copy of a certificate issued in accordance with this Section shall be considered as prima facie evidence of the facts therein stated, * * *."

The certified copy of the death certificate in this case was obtained by an assistant State's Attorney. It was apparently issued pursuant to paragraph (c) of subsection (4). In the trial court the prosecution contended that the document was admissible under subsection (6) which makes any "certification of death" or "certified copy of a death certificate" prima facie evidence "of the facts stated therein." The defendant argued that subsection (6) must be read in conjunction with subsection (3) which provides that a certification of death "shall contain only the name, sex, date of death and place of death of the person to whom it relates." He contended that since subsection (3) does not permit the county clerk to include a statement of the cause of death in his certification of death, it was not intended that such a statement was admissible when it was contained in his certified copy of a death certificate. The trial judge reluctantly permitted the statement of the cause of death which ...


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