Illinois Supreme Court considers expectation of privacy in hospitals

Illinois Supreme Court considers expectation of privacy in hospitals

By DILPREET RAJU 
& ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
news@capitolnewsillinois.com

SPRINGFIELD – While Cortez Turner was in a hospital room being treated for a gunshot wound to his leg in 2016, police took his clothes. Now, the Illinois Supreme Court is weighing whether that action violated Turner’s expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

The arguments in the case were among several heard by the high court Tuesday, including a case that could change how police handle certain firearms possession violations.

Turner was ultimately convicted of perjury and murder in 2019, at least partially as a result of the evidence police gathered from his room at a Murphysboro hospital, according to court filings in the People v. Turner case.

Police had arrived at the hospital in response to a separate gunshot victim and, in the process, seized evidence from Turner’s hospital room, according to court filings. Turner, on the night of the incident in 2016, told hospital staff he was waiting for a ride when he heard gunfire and was hit by an errant bullet, court records show. The filings also stated Turner did not object when police told him they were going to seize his belongings.

A forensic examiner later determined by examining Turner’s clothes that the damage to them was caused by gunfire within a range of three inches. Police used that and other evidence to piece together a case against Turner as being part of a drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of a 38-year-old Murphysboro man.

Upon his 2019 conviction, Turner was sentenced to 30 years in prison. But he now argues police violated his Fourth Amendment right protecting him from unreasonable governmental search and seizure, and that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in a hospital trauma room, and police lacked a warrant.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Cebula argued that police did not need a warrant, and that the evidence is admissible to courts, due to what’s known as the “good-faith” exception – a legal principle through which evidence is viewed as permissible in circumstances where the officers were acting out of good faith when conducting a search.

“Police were told that he was a gunshot victim,” Cebula told the Supreme Court. “They walk by the room, the door is open, so a police officer acting in good faith believe they have the right to enter this room, certainly when they see bloody clothes in plain view.”

Richard Whitney, a lawyer for Turner, told the court there needs to be consideration of how someone in a hospital trauma room not only deserves to be free from search and seizure but may be far from normal critical faculties, which presumes privacy.

“Being in a state of undress and vulnerability, experiencing physical pain, receiving medical treatment that exposes large parts of the body, being hooked up to monitors and an IV, these are all intimate activities that you don’t want the general public to be gazing in on,” Whitney said.

A motion to suppress the evidence obtained from Turner’s hospital room was denied by a circuit court. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday questioned whether there is a reasonable expectation of privacy in a hospital setting, regardless of room or location within the hospital.

Attorney General Kwame Raoul’s office argued even if the Supreme Court finds the evidence should have been suppressed, it would be moot in the face of other evidence.

“Any error in admitting defendant’s bloody clothes at his bench trial was harmless because the remaining evidence against him is overwhelming,” the attorney general’s office wrote in a brief.

 

Concealed carry 

In 2021, Anthony Harvey was arrested and later charged with unlawful use of a weapon after police found a semiautomatic pistol during a traffic stop. During that stop, officers asked Harvey if he had a Firearms Owners Identification card or concealed carry license and he said he didn’t. 

Now, Harvey is requesting that the Supreme Court reverse his conviction. 

Harvey’s lawyer argued that the state didn’t provide “affirmative evidence” that he was illegally in possession of the gun. In saying he didn’t have a concealed carry license, Harvey could have meant that he didn’t have documentation on his person, which could have resulted in a different charge. 

“That is the burden of proof that’s placed on the state and if the state wanted to extinguish any ambiguity or lack of clarity on that, then the officer could have asked a follow up question,” Philip Payne, Harvey’s state-appointed lawyer, said in court Tuesday. “The state is never required to rely on the defendant to tell him himself.”

Instead of using potentially insufficient evidence, according to Payne, the state should have checked whether Harvey had a concealed carry license using the database of CCL holders maintained by the Illinois State Police. 

But some of the high court’s justices seemed to be wary of this argument during questions to Erin O’Connell, the lawyer representing the state. 

“The statute seems to put the burden on the licensee to respond to the question from the police officer, correct?” Chief Justice Mary Jane Theis asked. 

“Correct,” O’Connell replied. 

O’Connell went on to argue that the state had still met the burden of proof to demonstrate that Harvey illegally possessed the weapon, relying on testimony from officers that Harvey exhibited “furtive movements” to conceal the weapon. 

“The court doesn’t have to suspend common sense when it’s looking at evidence…” O’Connell said Tuesday. “He’s being asked by the officers, ‘are you licensed?’ And he says ‘no.’ That tends to corroborate that he had never been issued a concealed carry license.” 

The case follows a recent trend of reexamining firearms regulations following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, a case dealing with New York’s concealed carry permitting law. Subsequent cases at the federal level and in state courts have further strengthened Second Amendment protections for firearms owners and put additional requirements on prosecutors in proving crimes related to weapon possession. 

Harvey’s lawyers relied on this in written briefs, arguing that in the post-Bruen legal framework, Harvey had a “presumptive right” to possess a firearm.

The justices are set to deliberate on the two cases before issuing rulings in the coming months, although no timeline is set for when the justices might deliver their opinion.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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