Williams was convicted of first degree murder in a Winnebago county court in 1998. In 2014, he sent a FOIA request to the Winnebago County jail seeking the following records: (1) all “no-bills” and “true bills” of indictment for May 7th and 14th, 1997; (2) the grand jury’s deliberation and vote for May 14, 1997 in People v. Williams; and (3) the itinerary sheet for all “no bills” and “true bills” for May 7th and 14th, 1997. the States Attorney denied the FOIA request, citing the Illinois Criminal Code of Procedure as prohibiting release of any records that pertain to grand jury proceedings.
Williams appealed, and his appeal made its way to the Illinois appellate court, which upheld the States Attorney’s denial of his FOIA request, with one exception.
With respect to the request for release of “no bills,” the appellate court agreed with the States Attorney that those records are exempt, holding that the disclosure of “no bills” would expose innocent persons who had been exonerated by the grand jury. The court noted that these records have never been placed in the public record, so they could not even be properly redacted and are exempt in their entirety.
As to the request for release of “true bills,” the appellate court found that true bills are a matter of public record because they are filed in open court. However, the court held that the identities of witness names contained in a true bill would expose matters that occurred before the grand jury, and are exempt from disclosure. As a result, the court ordered release of the requested true bills with the witness names redacted.
Finally, as to the request for the deliberation and vote of the grand jury on Williams’ indictment, the court held that state law expressly states that the grand jury deliberations and vote are to be kept secret. Thus, the court upheld the States’ Attorney’s denial of these records.
In sum, to the extent that records relating to a grand jury proceeding have not been filed in open court, they are likely to be exempt from disclosure under FOIA under the Illinois Criminal Code of Procedure.