Third-District Appellate Court affirms dismissal of criminal defendant’s FOIA request.

January 16, 2019

Plaintiff Darius Turner submitted a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the Joliet Police Department seeking records relating to his arrest during the pendency of his criminal proceedings arising from that arrest. Joliet granted his request in part, redacting portions of the records pursuant to certain exemptions under FOIA. Turner filed suit, seeking a judgment that the exemptions were not in compliance with FOIA. Joliet moved to dismiss the complaint. In the motion, Joliet acknowledged that it had inadvertently failed to produce some records (one of the police reports) and attached those records to its motion. Joliet asserted that Turner’s claim was moot as he now had all the records and that the exemptions were properly asserted. The trial court agreed after conducting an in camera review of the records and granted the dismissal.

Turner appealed. During the appeal, Turner pled guilty and was sentenced in the criminal case for which he sought arrest records. As a result, Joliet released the documents which had been redacted under Section 7(1)(a) and Illinois Supreme Court Rule 415(c) because the exemption no longer applied. Thus, the Appellate Court found Turner’s complaint moot as no controversy continued to exist between the parties. Additionally, the Appellate Court held that the City’s assertion of exemptions under Rule 415(c), which governs discovery in a criminal case, was proper. Rule 415(c) prohibits criminal defendants represented by counsel from possessing discovery documents, such as police reports. The Court held that Rule 415(c) meant that Turner was entitled to view the requested documents through consultation with his attorney but he himself was not entitled to receive or possess them. Therefore, the City correctly withheld the documents as an exemption under FOIA. Finally, the Court found that the City did not act willfully and wantonly and thus Turner’s request for a civil penalty was denied. Mike Bersani and Yordana Wysocki represented the Defendants.

Turner v. Joliet Police Department

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