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June 23, 2000


SPRINGFIELD - Governor George H. Ryan today signed legislation that takes the first step in creating a uniform statewide evidence retention policy after the trial and conviction of a defendant. House Bill 4593 requires municipal police departments and sheriffs offices to preserve all physical evidence secured in relation to a trial to maintain sufficient official documentation to locate the evidence.

"I have made a commitment to do all that I can to improve the truth-seeking ability of the criminal justice system, and my action today is in furtherance of that goal," Ryan said. "In signing HB 4593, we are taking an important step in ensuring justice through modern technology."

In a letter to the House of Representatives, Ryan raised some concerns regarding HB 4593, and called on the General Assembly to continue to work on refining the legislation to address those concerns.

House Bill 4593, which takes effect on January 2001, was sponsored by Senators Ed Petka, R-Plainfield and Kimberly Lightford, D-Chicago and Representatives Calvin Giles, D-Chicago, and Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

June 23, 2000

To the Honorable Members of the
Illinois House of Representatives
91st General Assembly

Today I have signed House Bill 4593 into law, which is the first step in creating a uniform statewide evidence retention policy after the trial and conviction of a defendant. In 1998, Illinois was one of the first states to enact a law allowing a defendant the opportunity to seek a court order for fingerprint or DNA analysis of evidence after the defendant's conviction. However, this law is only useful if evidence capable of further testing has been retained. As new forensic techniques develop, there is even greater promise that such analysis will provide the criminal justice system with enhanced tools for establishing the guilt or innocence of persons accused of crime. I have made a commitment to do all that I can to improve the truth-seeking ability of the criminal justice system, and my action today is in furtherance of that goal.

However, House Bill 4593 is not without problems. The bill does not apply to all police and law enforcement agencies, since the definition of "law enforcement" is limited to municipal police departments and sheriff's offices. The lengthy evidence retention periods do not have a reasonable relationship to the period of incarceration or exhaustion of appeals in a defendant's case, and in many instances would require retention long after defendants have completed their sentences. The bill does provide the ability to seek a court order to dispose of the evidence sooner pursuant to court order, but the circumstances where the court can grant such an order are very limited. Equally troubling, the arbitrary time limits in the bill could even result in the permissible destruction of evidence prior to the expiration of a defendant's sentence or the exhaustion of all avenues of post-conviction review. Moreover, the bill covers all physical evidence rather than focusing on what I believe to be the true intent of retaining evidence that is capable of future testing with respect to fingerprint or genetic markers as contemplated by our 1998 landmark legislation providing for post-conviction forensic testing. Both law enforcement and the defense have also noted that some of the bill's terms are vague and undefined, making good faith compliance and enforcement difficult.

Finally, the new criminal offense for intentionally violating the evidence retention law does not cover all agencies or persons who handle or retain evidence and is in direct conflict with the current criminal offenses of official misconduct and obstruction of justice. In fact, the new offense carries a lower penalty than official misconduct.

House Bill 4593 passed the House 102-13 and the Senate 56-0. There was not any public opposition to the bill during the two months that it was under consideration by the General Assembly. Indeed, police and prosecutors have made clear to me that they fully support a uniform forensic evidence retention policy. However, after the bill passed, practitioners carefully considered the application and implementation of the new legislation and discovered some of the concerns that I have expressed above. Police officers, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike made helpful suggestions and proposed changes.

I have been urged to address these concerns through an amendatory veto. However, there were too many issues and proposed modifications to address through my limited powers under the amendatory veto process. Nor do I believe it to be appropriate to circumvent the deliberative process of the General Assembly. I have urged these parties to continue in the same spirit of cooperation they have demonstrated with my office in seeking to improve the criminal justice system and to continue working together on follow-up legislation. After our discussions with all of the interested parties, I believe there is room for compromise on the key issues. I have full confidence that with House Bill 4593 as a starting point and with everyone working together, the General Assembly can produce a model evidence retention law for Illinois and the nation.

Therefore, I am asking the General Assembly to continue working on refining the legislation I have signed into law today to address the issues I have raised.



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