Lack of Personal Knowledge In An Illinois Divorce

Russell Knight

Russell D. Knight has been practicing family law as a Chicago divorce lawyer since 2006. Russell D. Knight amicably resolves tough cases while remaining a strong advocate for his client’s interests.

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Witnesses With A Lack Of Personal Knowledge In An Illinois Divorce Hearing Or Trial

Lack of Personal Knowledge In An Illinois Divorce

A divorce trial is a series of witnesses testifying in order to introduce evidence for the finder of fact, a judge, to weigh and make final orders.

What will these witnesses be testifying to in an Illinois divorce trial?

Witnesses can only testify to that which they actually know.

“A witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter.” Ill. R. Evid. 602

“[T]he testimony of a lay witness must be confined to statements of fact of which the witness has personal knowledge.” People v. Brown, 200 Ill.App.3d 566, 578, 146 Ill.Dec. 346, 558 N.E.2d 309, 316 (1990).

What is Personal Knowledge In An Illinois Divorce Hearing Or Trial?

“The most common means of satisfying [the] requirement [of personal knowledge] is by the informant’s declaration that he is revealing personal knowledge gathered through some physical sensory faculty such as that of sight, smell or sound.” People v. Gates, 423 NE 2d 887 – Ill: Supreme Court 1981

The concept that a witness can only testify to what they have personal knowledge of is the broadest and easiest evidentiary objection a person can make…because it encompasses almost all of the other objections.

Lack Of Personal Knowledge As A Substitute For Most Objections

An objection must have a grounds or reason for the objection.

“Objections should be sufficiently specific to inform the court of the ground for the objection, and a general objection, if overruled, will not preserve the issue for review on appeal.” People v. Queen (1974), 56 Ill.2d 560, 564, 310 N.E.2d 166

It is really hard to remember and invoke all of the rules of evidence in your head while listening to a witness testify in such a way that you both seek to

When a witness says something and you can’t identify the specific objection, you may simply say “Objection. Lack of Personal Knowledge” and get some good results, therefrom.

Testify as to the statement of another is lack of personal knowledge as to the subject matter. That’s hearsay.

“Personal knowledge of a fact cannot be based on the statement of another.” People v. Novak, 643 NE 2d 762 – Ill: Supreme Court 1994

Personal knowledge is primary knowledge that satisfies the best evidence rule.

“The limitation [that a witness only testify as to personal knowledge] essentially requires that the fact finder receive the best evidence available—first-hand knowledge rather than second-hand knowledge” People v. Novak, 643 NE 2d 762 – Ill: Supreme Court 1994

Anything that isn’t personal knowledge is an opinion which may or may not be allowed into evidence.

“[A] witness may only testify to facts within his own personal knowledge and recollection, and may not draw inferences and conclusions.” People v. Hobley, 637 NE 2d 992 – Ill: Supreme Court 1994

Only opinions rationally based on personal perception are permissible testimony.

“The limitation that lay witness opinion testimony be rationally based on the witness’ perception reflects the general requirement that a witness must have personal knowledge of the matter to testify to it. The testimony must be based on concrete facts perceived from the witness’ own senses.” People v. Novak, 643 NE 2d 762 – Ill: Supreme Court 1994

If the witness cannot make a lay witness opinion rationally based on their personal perception, that is speculation.

“It is improper… to ask a witness to speculate about matters beyond his personal knowledge” People v. Enis, 564 NE 2d 1155 – Ill: Supreme Court 1990

Anything outside of a description of what the witness observed could be calling for a legal conclusion, which is the duty of the judge.

“It is the [finder of fact’s] job to draw inferences from the facts, not the witnesses’ job to provide inferences for them.” People v. McCarter, 897 NE 2d 265 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 6th Div. 2008

Documents cannot be properly authenticated if the party introducing them cannot testify with personal knowledge as to the document’s source and contents.

“[T]estimony about the information included in [a] document…cannot be admitted in evidence [if the witness] has no personal knowledge as to the accuracy of the information in the document or who sent it. Case law is clear that a witness cannot testify about information of which he or she has no personal knowledge and did not perceive through his or her own senses.” Babich v. River Oaks Toyota, 879 NE 2d 420 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 4th Div. 2007

Even an affidavit supplementing a pleading or used in a summary hearing must be based on personal knowledge or that document will not be considered by the court.

“An affidavit is based upon the personal knowledge of the affiant and there is a reasonable inference that the affiant could competently testify to its contents at trial” Burks Drywall, Inc. v. WASH. BK & TR. CO., 442 NE 2d 648 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1982

An opposing counsel’s attempt to salvage a witness’s testimony by refreshing the witness’s recollection can be objected to again if the information in the document refreshing the witness’s recollection were not personally experienced by the witness.

It is impermissible to admit “facts sought to be recalled [that] were never within the witness’ personal knowledge. [If the document used to refresh a recollection was not describing something the witness experienced personally than] even if the witness had been allowed to inspect the documents, he would [be]unable to state the facts from his own personal knowledge.” NORTHERN ILL. GAS v. V. DiVITO CONST., 573 NE 2d 243 – Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 1991

Indeed, almost any testimony can be objected to under lack of personal knowledge.

For example, in one case it was found that “although Fox testified that Mann was looking in Bartow’s direction when Bartow waved, that is not evidence that Mann saw Bartow’s wave.” Mann v. Producer’s Chemical Co., 827 NE 2d 883 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 2nd Div. 2005

The objection “lack of personal knowledge” may cover other objections you may not have even thought of at the time of the objection.

“[W]hen an objection is made, specific grounds must be stated and other grounds not stated are waived on review” Jones v. Rallos, 890 NE 2d 1190 – Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 2008

Overcoming An Objection Of Lack Of Personal Knowledge

While I may have portrayed “lack of personal knowledge” to be a silver bullet to keep out all testimony that doesn’t start with “I saw,” “I smelled,” “I heard,” or “I felt” the objection can be overcome easily enough.

“Evidence to prove personal knowledge may, but need not, consist of the witness’ own testimony. ” Ill. R. Evid. 602

A simple follow up question of “how do you know that?” will clarify whether the witness is testifying based on personal knowledge or from some other source.

Trial is the application of the rules of evidence. If you can’t remember all the rules of evidence, at least remember this one…or better yet, hire a lawyer who has them all memorized and write articles about them for fun. Contact my Chicago, Illinois family law firm today to speak with an experienced divorce lawyer about your case.