Supreme Court Approves New Illinois Rules of Evidence Effective Jan. 1, 2011

The Illinois Supreme Court has approved the Illinois Rules of Evidence in codified form aimed at expediting the trial process and improving the administration of justice in Illinois courts.  To read the rules, click here:  Illinois Rules of Evidence (eff. 1.1.2011)

“The Illinois State Bar Association strongly supported codification of the rules of evidence and welcomes the action of the Supreme Court,” said John E. Thies, 2nd Vice President, Illinois State Bar Association. “Codification of evidentiary law from the multiple sources where it now resides will be a significant benefit to the practicing bar, and also a convenience for the judiciary. Legal research should be simpler, and codification may also result in a more unified application of evidentiary rules.  We applaud the Court and Chief Justice Fitzgerald for undertaking this important task.” 

The Illinois Rules of Evidence, as they will be known, was a primary goal of Chief Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald and represents a nearly two-year effort by a Special Supreme Court Committee.

“The new rules of evidence will provide the bar of Illinois easy access to the Illinois law of evidence and be of enormous value to practicing lawyers in the state and the litigants they represent,” said Chief Justice Fitzgerald. “I want to express thanks to all those members of the Special Committee who gave their tireless efforts to complete a large task with diligence and efficiency.”

Before codification, the rules of evidence in Illinois were dispersed throughout case law–that is, they were contained in the findings and rulings by the Illinois Supreme Court and the appellate courts; statutes; and other Illinois Supreme Court rules.  It required attorneys and judges to research and ascertain the applicable rules from a number of sources.

The codified rules were proposed consistent with several principles:

  • Codification: They incorporate the current state of the law of evidence in Illinois whenever the Illinois Supreme Court or Appellate Court has clearly spoken on a principle of evidentiary law;
  • Statutes: They avoid all instances affecting the validity of existing statutes promulgated by the Illinois legislature; and the rules do not preclude the legislature from acting in the future with respect to the law of evidence in a manner not in conflict with the Illinois Rules of Evidence.
  • Modernization: Noncontroversial developments in the law of evidence as reflected in the Federal Rules of Evidence and 44 jurisdictions surveyed by the Committee were incorporated into the Illinois Rules.
  • Limited changes: According to the commentary, the Rules contain changes in only two areas: one, dealing with opinion testimony (in Rules 405 and 608); and the second, allowing a hearsay statement under Rule 803(3) as to the existing state of mind or physical condition of a person even if that person would be available as a witness.

The Committee made, and the Supreme Court approved,  some revisions to an earlier draft, based on public hearings May 18 in Chicago and May 20 in Springfield as well as from written comments it had received. Those changes included:

  • Revising Rule 101 to clarify that the rules do not intend to abrogate or supercede any existing statutory rules of evidence;
  • Temporarily reserving Rule 407 which dealt with remedial measures taken in product liability cases until the Supreme Court rules on a pending case, Jablonski v. Ford Motor Co.
  • Revising Rule 702 to affirm that Illinois remains a state adhering to the core principles  of the Frye test for admissibility of scientific evidence as set forth in Donaldson v. Central Illinois Public Service Co., 199 Ill. 2nd 63 (2002).
  • Reserving Rule 803(18), which as originally drafted would have created a hearsay exception for learned treatises in accordance with the Federal Rules of Evidence.
  • Revising Rule 801(d)(1)(A) to omit a proposed change to Illinois law which would have provided for substantive admissibility of prior inconsistent statements in civil proceedings.

The rules go into effect January 1, 2011.