Revealing Relevance

Wilson v. City of Chicago | 13-1279

August 2014

In Wilson v. City of Chicago, the Court touched on an evidentiary issue that may be fodder next time you are arguing in favor of admission of relevant and damning evidence. Wilson involved a police-shooting and resulting death of Raul Barriera, who suffered from psychiatric issues. After Chicago police officers attempted to coax Barriera from a barricaded room (his family felt he was a danger to himself), the officers forced entry into the room where Barriera lunged at them with a knife. He was shot and died as a result of the shooting.

At trial, over plaintiff’s objection, defendants offered evidence that taped to Barriera’s leg, at the time of the police encounter, was a six-inch throwing knife. The officers were unaware of the throwing knife’s presence as it was discovered in the ambulance. They had only seen the knife that Barriera was holding. Plaintiff’s counsel argued that the presence of the knife was not relevant to the officers’ decision to use deadly force as the officers did not see the knife on Barriera. The Seventh Circuit found the knife admissible for a reason other than justifying the use of force – rather the Court found that the knife made the officers’ version of event more likely to be true. The presence of the knife made “it more likely that the officers’ version [of events] is correct; it suggests that Barriera was prepared for battle and more likely to act aggressively.” The Court went on to cite other cases where evidence not known to the actors at the time of the event was deemed admissible because it made one version of events more likely true than another. Of course, there are limits to this dimension of relevancy, but Wilson is a good case to have available when arguing for the admission of evidence that logically or inferentially makes one version of events more likely to be true than another – even if that evidence is not known to the affected actors at the time of the event.