An Overview of How Evidence of Prior Criminal Acts Is Used in a Self Defense Claim in Illinois.
In Illinois, evidence of a prior criminal act or "bad act" by a complaining witness against a defendant can be admitted into evidence to support the defendant's claim of self defense. Generally, there are two situations where a court will consider evidence of a prior "bad act" relevant to the issue of a claim of self defense by the defendant. See People v. Lynch, 104 Ill.2d 194, 470 N.E.2d 1018 (1984). (1) The evidence may be used to show that the defendant acted reasonably in using deadly force against the victim. (2) Evidence of the prior "bad acts" or prior criminal conduct may be admissible where there is a dispute as to whom initiated the aggression. For instance, if a woman fights off an attacker and is later charged with battery, evidence of the prior attack is admissible to support the woman's claim that she was acting in self defense against the imminent use of unlawful force. Also, see the more recent case of People v. Wilson, 214 Ill.2d 127, 141 (2005). However, evidence of a prior "bad act" may not be used to show a person has a habit of committing crimes. Under Illinois case law, this would not be admissible. Defense attorneys and prosecutors alike file motions in advance of trials to alert the court of their intent to seek to admit evidence of prior "bad acts" at trial. These motions are referred to as "Lynch motions." In the interest of judicial economy, judges will attempt to dispose of these motions in advance of the trial.