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UNITED STATES EX REL. KLINE v. LANE

February 17, 1989

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. PHILLIP KLINE, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL P. LANE, Respondent



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEINENWEBER

 HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 FACTS

 In 1979 petitioner, Phillip Kline ("Kline"), was convicted of the murder of Bridgette Regli ("Regli") in the Circuit Court of Will County, Illinois and was sentenced to fifty to one hundred years imprisonment. Kline appealed and both the appellate court and the Supreme Court of Illinois affirmed his conviction. People v. Kline, 99 Ill. App. 3d 540, 425 N.E.2d 562, 54 Ill. Dec. 697 (3rd Dist. 1981), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 92 Ill. 2d 490, 442 N.E.2d 154, 65 Ill. Dec. 843 (1982).

 In 1984 Kline filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court of Will County. Following an evidentiary hearing the court granted the state's motion for a directed verdict and dismissed the petition. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal in an unreported opinion (People v. Kline, No. 3-85-0389 (3rd Dist. Jan. 30, 1986)) and the Supreme Court of Illinois denied Kline's petition for leave to appeal in an unpublished order entered June 3, 1986.

 Respondent has moved for summary judgment. Because there is no genuine issue of material fact and because respondent is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the motion for summary judgment is granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

 DISCUSSION

 1. Right of Confrontation Claim

 The record indicates that the main evidence at trial linking petitioner to the murder of Regli was the testimony of petitioner's wife, Anna Kline ("Anna"), who testified that petitioner admitted to her that he was present when a co-defendant murdered Regli. The defense attacked Anna's testimony in both its cross-examination of her and its case-in-chief, establishing that, inter alia : Anna sold and used narcotics; she sought revenge against defendant for leaving her for another woman; she made a number of prior inconsistent statements; she engaged in adulterous relationships; and when Kline's mother refused to give Anna's share of the family-owned business to Anna she threatened that she would see Kline "rot in jail." The court would not however allow the defense to cross-examine Anna on her mental condition.

 Petitioner claims that this was prejudicial error because at the post-conviction hearing Anna admitted that she had suffered a nervous breakdown in the months before trial. Thus had the court allowed petitioner to cross-examine Anna on this point, petitioner argues that the defense would have uncovered the fact of Anna's nervous breakdown to further impeach her. Instead, the defense was precluded from demonstrating Anna's lack of competency to testify.

 In determining whether to grant petitioner relief the court will not invalidate petitioner's state conviction on an alleged evidentiary error unless the error so tainted the trial that it was fundamentally unfair. Cramer v. Fahner, 683 F.2d 1376, 1385 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1016, 74 L. Ed. 2d 509, 103 S. Ct. 376 (1982). "Unless the claimed error amounted to a fundamental defect so great that it inherently resulted in a complete miscarriage of justice, the conviction should stand. State evidentiary rulings should rarely be the cause of habeas review." Id. (citations omitted)

 Petitioner has not convinced the court that the trial court's ruling constituted so egregious an error. The modern decisional trend is to not allow cross-examination into a witness's psychiatric background where such cross-examination is sought as a means of attacking the witness's credibility. U.S. v. Lopez, 611 F.2d 44, 45 (4th Cir. 1979).

 
"The rationale for such a restriction, as applied in the psychiatric area, is that many psychiatric problems or fixations which a witness may have had are without any relevancy to the witness' credibility, concerned as it is with whether the witness' mental impairment is related to 'his capacity to observe the event at the time of its occurrence, to communicate his observations accurately and truthfully at trial, or to maintain a clear recollection in the meantime.'"

 Id. Whether such cross-examination is to be permitted is an issue committed to the sound discretion of the trial court which is "entitled to weigh the potential unfairness of a free wheeling inquiry intended to stigmatize the witness against whatever materiality the evidence might have." Id. at 46. To enable the court to make this determination the party seeking to cross-examine "should make an offer of proof of the evidence it seeks to develop on the witness' mental impairment." Id.


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