Sep 30

In a unanimous decision, the Illinois Supreme Court voted to allow the use of hearsay testimony in the highly publicized murder conviction of former police officer Drew Peterson, according to an article by the Chicago Tribune.

Peterson is currently serving a sentence of 38 years for the 2004 death of his third wife and 40 years for scheming to kill a prosecuting attorney. Authorities have remaining questions concerning the 2007 disappearance of Peterson’s fourth wife. But as the fourth wife’s body was never found, there is a lack of evidence to charge any suspects.

Defense attorneys for Peterson appealed the murder conviction based on the use of hearsay testimony. Hearsay is legal device that prohibits witnesses from testifying as to things they did not see, hear, or experience directly. Generally speaking, hearsay is not allowed in criminal trials because the defendant cannot challenge the validity of the statements offered.

In Peterson’s case, the Illinois Supreme Court determined that hearsay was allowed under special circumstances. Pointing to evidence that Peterson disposed of certain witnesses to prevent their testimony, the court allowed hearsay in this case. Disappointed with this result, Peterson’s defense team will likely try to appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Considering the impact of this news story, it feels like a great time to review Illinois laws concerning first- and second-degree murder.

What is the Illinois Definition of First-Degree Murder?

Illinois defines first-degree murder under 720 ILCS 5/9-1. Under this section, first-degree murder involves the unlawful killing of a person in certain situations.

First-degree murder is applicable if the killer:

  • Intends to kill or inflict serious bodily harm;
  • Knows that their actions will likely result in death or serious bodily harm; or
  • Attempts or commits specific felony crimes at the same time as murder.

It is important to note that Illinois law provides for many aggravating factors that increase the penalties for first-degree murder under specific circumstances.

What is the Illinois Definition of Second-Degree Murder?

Illinois defines second-degree murder under 720 ILCS 5/9-2. Under this section, a charge of first-degree murder can be reduced to second-degree murder under specific circumstances.

Second-degree murder is applicable in either of the following circumstances:

  • The victim provokes the killer into a state of “a sudden and intense passion,” during which the killer negligently or accidentally kills the victim.
  • The killer has a mistaken or unreasonable belief that their actions are legally justified, even though they engaged in an unlawful killing.

Illinois law underlines that severe provocation is enough to evoke “a sudden and intense passion” in an otherwise reasonable person.

Do You Need Legal Advice?

No matter what the criminal offense, all criminal charges are serious. Without a sound strategy and an aggressive defense, you could miss out on your best chance for a positive outcome. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you understand the law and navigate toward an effective resolution.

Serving the counties of Dewitt, Ford, Livingston, Logan, McLean, Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford, The Prior Law Firm is located in Bloomington, Illinois. Our attorneys are dedicated to the practice of Illinois criminal law. If you need legal advice concerning any criminal offense, please do not hesitate to contact us immediately.

You can reach The Prior Law Firm by phone at (309) 827-4300, email at or online by completing a simple form.

(image courtesy of Dominik Martin)