APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. WILLIAM
COUSINS, JR., Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE ROMITI DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The defendant, seeking to have a bond forfeiture set aside, filed a letter with the court. The letter stated he had been hospitalized on the date of the forfeiture. The court, after examining the letter, concluded that the letter was a forgery and, after a continuance, but without granting a hearing or receiving any evidence, found the defendant guilty of contempt and sentenced him to six months in jail. The defendant appeals, contending that the evidence did not establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that he was denied due process of law. We agree with both contentions and reverse.
The defendant was arrested and charged with two counts of burglary. He posted bond, but on December 7, 1977, failed to appear in court. The trial judge ordered the bond forfeited and a warrant for defendant's arrest was issued. Subsequently judgment was entered on the bond forfeiture. On March 28, 1978, defendant, having been arrested on the warrant issued on December 7, 1977, appeared in court. He filed a sworn petition to vacate the bond forfeiture and accompanied the petition with a photocopy of the following letter:
"Cermak Memorial Hospital 2800 South California Avenue Chicago, Illinois 60608 Telephone 312/847-5600
MEDICAL VERIFICATION March 22, 1978
Presiding Judge Criminal Courts> Building 2600 South California Avenue Chicago, Illinois
Records received from this hospital from Cook County Hospital indicate that Mr. Louis Randall was entered into that hospital on December 4, 1977, to March 10, 1978, for the purpose of spinal and lower back injuries. Subject was released from Cook County Hospital on March 10, 1978, with the stipulation that he confine himself to total bed-rest for a period of two (2) weeks.
Due to the nature of this type injury, this amount of time is required to determine the success of the therapy.
His condition at this time has improved; with proper therapy we feel there should be no further complications.
May the above mentioned information serve the Court in Mr. Randall's behalf. If additional information is needed please feel free to contact our department.
/s/ Elisworth E. Hasbrouck, M.D. /s/ Elisworth E. Hasbrouck, M.D."
Below the heading was a line running two thirds across the letter. Below the words "Medical Verification" was a smear apparently due to an erasure. There were smudges on the paper, especially below the typed portion of the letter.
The judge, remarking that he was not a fool, asked where the original of the letter was. The public defender responded that he presumed that the presiding judge had it. The judge then stated that the petition was entered and continued until he received the original of the letter. He added that he wanted to see some doctors and he wanted it (the letter) notarized. He stated that if the court was being presented with a phony certificate they were going to have some problems. The judge pointed out that the letter indicated that defendant had been at Cermak, the prison hospital, and defendant had not been at the prison hospital. Defendant responded that "I was in the Cook County Hospital and I got that from the social worker, see, because when I was arrested the paramedic, he wrote me up on the treatment for my back and I'm taking physical therapy at Cermak now."
The public defender had asked for 30 days to get the records from the hospitals. The court, however, set the case for April 7, 1978, 10 days later.
On April 7, 1978, the court, without benefit of a hearing, held defendant to be in direct contempt of the court due to the "patently fraudulent" nature of the letter. He pointed out that he knew from his experience relative to copying that the smudge beneath the words "Medical Verification" and underneath a portion of the address were due to an obliteration of some writing. He added that "Elisworth" is not spelled "Elisworth" but "Ellsworth" and that Ellsworth was a member of the Governing Commission of the Cook County Hospital Association but was not a member of the Cermak Hospital staff. The judge continued:
"* * * an effort has been made to fool this court by submitting to the Court what is a patently fraudulent document, and this Court does not purport to overlook that, as such conduct on the part of any person before the court would tend to bring the administration of the law into disrepute, disrespect and disregard, and such conduct is in ...