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Cranwill v. Donahue

OPINION FILED APRIL 10, 1985.

JACK CRANWILL, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

JAMES R. DONAHUE ET AL., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Tazewell County; the Hon. Ivan L. Yontz, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE STOUDER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied June 4, 1985.

Plaintiff, Jack Cranwill, filed a complaint for damages for false arrest and false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, malicious prosecution and abuse of process against defendants, James Donahue, sheriff of Tazewell County, and Patrick Landrith, his deputy. After trial in the circuit court of Tazewell County a jury verdict was returned in favor of defendants.

This well-traveled cause of action began in 1975 when plaintiff was arrested by Landrith and his now-deceased partner and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Plaintiff was taken to the sheriff's office and given two breathalyzer tests, which he passed. Even so, the sheriff's department issued an arrest citation, and plaintiff had to post bond. This action began in Federal court, worked its way into State court and, following our holding in Cranwill v. Donahue (1981), 99 Ill. App.3d 968, 426 N.E.2d 337, that the Federal decision was not a bar to the present action nor was the present action time-barred, the instant case finally went to trial.

On appeal, plaintiff contends the defendants' continued reference, over objection, to an arrest report prepared by Landrith; the acceptance and subsequent denial of the report in evidence; and the occurrence of the report's finding its way into the jury room were prejudicial. Defendants assert that even if the circumstances surrounding the police report constitute error, it is not prejudicial and further, it would not have been error to admit the police report into evidence.

The principal issue on appeal is whether the circumstances surrounding the use of the police report during the trial were prejudicial to the plaintiff's case in chief.

• 1, 2 Illinois courts have generally held that a police report is not admissible in corroboration of a witness' testimony, and that the mere attempt to introduce such an exhibit may be considered reversible error. (Johnson v. Plodzien (1961), 31 Ill. App.2d 222, 175 N.E.2d 560; Dembinski v. F. & T. Corp. (1970), 124 Ill. App.2d 112, 260 N.E.2d 359; Jacobs v. Holley (1972), 3 Ill. App.3d 762, 279 N.E.2d 186.) The theory behind this line of cases is that police reports are in the nature of hearsay or state conclusions. (Walls v. Jul (1969), 118 Ill. App.2d 242, 254 N.E.2d 173.) Furthermore, where exhibits are not admitted in evidence, it is error to permit the jury to take them to the jury room. (People v. Holcomb (1938), 370 Ill. 299, 18 N.E.2d 878.) Not all errors committed at trial, however, constitute grounds for reversal. Only those errors which are prejudicial to the rights of the complaining party are reversible. Gertz v. Bass (1965), 59 Ill. App.2d 180, 208 N.E.2d 113.

• 3 In the present case, defendants first brought up the existence of the arrest report in their opening statement. They next brought the police report to light during the examination of Landrith, whom plaintiff had called as an adverse witness. Subsequently, during their case in chief defendants were successful in placing the police report in evidence as a business record; however, the trial court reversed itself and disallowed admittance of the report. Plaintiff raised objections throughout the trial concerning defendants' use of the report, and many of the arguments made by the adverse parties concerning the report were made in the presence of the jury. These circumstances, coupled with the undisputed fact that the police report found its way into the jury room, are enough to show prejudice to plaintiff's case in chief. The aura of mystery surrounding the subject of such heated debate was great enough for the jury to believe its mere existence proved plaintiff's arrest was proper and justified. The culmination of the report's finding its way into the jury room is too great to be allowed as harmless error.

For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the circuit court of Tazewell County is reversed, and this cause is remanded for further proceedings consistent with the views expressed herein.

Reversed and remanded.

SCOTT, J., concurs.

JUSTICE BARRY, dissenting:

I dissent. In my opinion, the circumstances surrounding defendants' use of the arrest report did not constitute prejudicial error in this case. The cases cited by the majority for the general proscription against admitting police accident reports (Johnson v. Plodzien (1961), 31 Ill. App.2d 222, 175 N.E.2d 560; Dembinski v. F. & T. Corp. (1970), 124 Ill. App.2d 112, 260 N.E.2d 359) are inapposite to the situation presented here.

Police accident reports are specifically excluded from the business record exception to the hearsay rule in Illinois (94 Ill.2d R. 236(b)). In the case of an accident lawsuit, the fact that a police investigation report is made is rarely of any relevance to the issues to be decided by the jury. The introduction of a report signed by an officer merely reciting whatever witnesses have to say about the incident is generally hearsay within hearsay and ...


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