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People v. Phipps





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Logan County; the Hon. WILLIAM M. ROBERTS, Judge, presiding.


Simply stated, the question presented is this:

To what extent is a defendant in a criminal action entitled to discovery of confidential psychiatric files of a State witness, which are in the custody of the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disability (DMHDD)?

(This case is presently before us on remand from our Supreme Court. 83 Ill.2d 87, 413 N.E.2d 1277.)

Defendant was charged with cruelty to persons (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 23, par. 2368), maltreatment of a mentally retarded person (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 91 1/2, par. 15-I), and battery (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 38, par. 12-3(a)(1)), all offenses having occurred while defendant was an employee of the Lincoln Developmental Center.

He filed a pretrial motion for discovery which requested, inter alia, the names and addresses of all persons to be called as witnesses by the State. The State's answer listed 20 witnesses that it intended to call.

Defendant next filed a motion for additional discovery which asserted that seven witnesses listed in the State's answer were residents of the Lincoln Developmental Center, that the State maintained personal files on these individuals, and that the files contained mental evaluations, intelligent quotients, statements concerning the truth and veracity of the witnesses, and other unknown information which concerned the proposed witnesses. It was requested that the State furnish defendant with a copy of these files. This motion was granted by the trial court.

The State then asked the court to reconsider its order of discovery, asserting that the requested material was in the control of the DMHDD. That agency had informed the prosecutor that the files were not available because they were confidential under the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Confidentiality Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 91 1/2, pars. 801 through 817).

The trial court entered an order stating that the Mental Health Code did not forbid the production of the material, but rather, gave the patient or his therapist a privilege to prevent disclosure. The court said that any witnesses who invoked the privilege, or on whose behalf it was invoked, would not be permitted to testify. Those who complied with the discovery order could testify.

On appeal, the State initially argues that the trial court's order was erroneous because the request for material was unreasonable and because there was no showing that the material was relevant. The trial court's order was presumably entered pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 412(h), which provides:

"(h) Discretionary disclosures. Upon a showing of materiality to the preparation of the defense, and if the request is reasonable, the court in its discretion may require disclosure to defense counsel of relevant material and information not covered by this rule." 73 Ill.2d R. 412(h).

The State argues that defendant's conclusory statement in his request for additional discovery, without any specific allegations as to how the information could be used, was not sufficient to show materiality as required by Rule 412(h). The State further argues that the substantial risk of embarrassment to the witnesses outweighs any usefulness to the defendant.

One must appreciate the dilemma which was presented to the trial court. It must be kept in mind that we are dealing with a criminal prosecution and the witnesses in question are residents of a State mental health institution. The allegations of the motion were clearly sufficient. While a jury would possibly view the testimony of these witnesses with suspicion, it takes little conjecture to conclude that the files could contain information which would be highly probative of the witnesses' truth, veracity, ability to perceive, and memory capabilities. Although we have not examined the files, on the record presented, we cannot conclude that the trial court has abused its discretion. The trial court's resolution was an obvious attempt to resolve an apparent conflict between countervailing principles.

In Davis v. Alaska (1974), 415 U.S. 308, 39 L.Ed.2d 347, 94 S.Ct. 1105, the trial court, on a motion of the prosecution, issued a protective order prohibiting the defendant from questioning a key prosecution witness concerning the witness' adjudication as a juvenile delinquent and his probationary status at the time he identified the defendant as the perpetrator of the offense. The Supreme Court held that the sixth amendment right to confrontation meant more than being allowed to confront a witness physically and that the defendant was entitled to question the witness concerning his juvenile adjudication for the purpose of showing possible bias and prejudice. In so holding, the court found ...

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