If a person hires me to represent him in a felony case, I can’t give him a copy of his police report. This is due to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 415(c). This rule provides that “materials furnished to an attorney pursuant to these [discovery] rules shall remain in his exclusive custody . . . .” The Committee Comment on the rule states that discovery material received by a lawyer is not to leave the lawyer’s office:
While he will undoubtedly have to show it to, or at least discuss it with, others, he is not permitted to furnish them with copies or let them take it from his office.
What is the purpose behind the rule? The Committee Comment says that the rule helps to prevent “public availability” of discovery material. If discovery material were to become publicly available, says the committee, then there would be “prejudice” to the “administration of criminal justice.” In other words, the committee decided to hide behind fancy-sounding words rather than clearly tell us the purpose of the rule. I guess it was too hard for the committee to say the purpose of the rule is to prevent bad people from doing bad things to potential witnesses after getting police reports (and other documents).
I would like to give my clients copies of their police reports. In order to give the best defense possible, I need the help of my clients. I can read and analyze reports until I am blue in the face, but when I read police reports, I don’t bring the same background that my clients do. (For example, clients may be eye witnesses to events, may know witnesses well, may know incident scenes well, etc.) My clients, of course, can come to my office and read their reports, but it would be better if they could take the reports home. At home, they can take the time to read their reports multiple times and slowly digest the information in the reports. Under the current rule, they have to make an appointment with me each time they want to come and review the material. In short, the rule impedes the preparation of the best defense possible.
There are some lawyers that ignore SCR 415(c); they freely give copies of police reports to their clients. I am not one of these lawyers; I will whine about the rule, but I will not ignore it. If a person wants a lawyer who plays fast and loose with the rules, that person should not contact me; I cannot help him.
On a final note, as much as I dislike SCR 415(c), I am certainly glad that I, the attorney, get police reports. It is my understanding that my brothers and sisters in some other jurisdictions do without them to a large extent.