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People v. Lang

OPINION FILED SEPTEMBER 4, 1984.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,

v.

DONALD LANG, RESPONDENT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Joseph Schneider, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Nearly two decades have passed, yet the interesting as well as perplexing case of respondent Donald Lang, a visually impaired, *fn1 illiterate deaf-mute, endures — stubbornly evading efforts of finality on the part of the Illinois judiciary.

In November 1965, respondent was indicted for the murder of a woman. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1965, ch. 38, par. 9-1.) He was civilly committed to the Department of Mental Health after being found unfit to stand trial. (People v. Lang (1967), 37 Ill.2d 75, 80-81, 224 N.E.2d 838.) On appeal from the circuit court's denial of respondent's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the supreme court ordered the cause reinstated and expedited for trial. (People ex rel. Myers v. Briggs (1970), 46 Ill.2d 281, 288, 263 N.E.2d 109.) The State, however, dismissed the indictment due to the death of a principal witness. Respondent was thereupon released from confinement in February 1971.

Approximately five months later, in July 1971, respondent was again indicted for the murder of a second woman. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1969, ch. 38, par. 9-1.) Following a jury trial, he was found guilty as charged, convicted and sentenced to a term of 14 to 20 years' imprisonment. This court reversed in February 1975, holding that respondent's conviction had been secured in the absence of trial procedures which could effectively compensate for his disabilities; accordingly, the cause was remanded for a determination of respondent's fitness to stand trial. People v. Lang (1975), 26 Ill. App.3d 648, 655, 325 N.E.2d 305, appeal dismissed (1976), 423 U.S. 1070, 47 L.Ed.2d 80, 96 S.Ct. 851, cert. denied (1976), 423 U.S. 1079, 47 L.Ed.2d 90, 96 S.Ct. 866.

After a March 1976 fitness hearing, the trial court found respondent unfit and remanded him to the Illinois Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (Department) for a hearing into his need for hospitalization. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 38, par. 1005-2-2.) The lower court, in December 1976, ruled that respondent was not mentally retarded, that he was not in need of mental treatment and that, pending further order of court, he was to continue his residency at the security unit of the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute (ISPI), a Department facility.

In March 1977, the circuit court vacated its order requiring the Department to hold respondent. Pursuant to the conservator's application for voluntary or informal admission, respondent remained at ISPI until October 1977, at which time the court allowed the Department to discharge him to the Cook County jail. However, it was also the trial court's directive, by virtue of a writ of mandamus, that the Department create and implement an adequate and humane care and treatment program. This court vacated the mandamus order, but affirmed the denial of respondent's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. People v. Lang (1978), 62 Ill. App.3d 688, 712, 378 N.E.2d 1106, rev'd on other grounds (1979), 76 Ill.2d 311.

On appeal, the supreme court remanded the cause to the circuit court for a hearing to determine whether respondent was still unfit to stand trial and, if so, whether respondent possessed the characteristics of dangerousness required for involuntary admission under sections 1-119 and 3-700 et seq. of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1978 Supp., ch. 91 1/2, pars. 1-119 and 3-700 et seq.) (hereinafter referred to by section number as the MHDD Code). People v. Lang (1979), 76 Ill.2d 311, 331, 391 N.E.2d 350, cert. denied (1979), 444 U.S. 954, 62 L.Ed.2d 326, 100 S.Ct. 433.

On March 23, 1981, the trial court entered an order finding respondent to be unfit to stand trial or to otherwise plead to the 1971 murder charge then pending against him. (Ill. Rev. Stat., 1980 Supp., ch. 38, par. 104-16(d).) It was further found that no substantial probability existed that respondent would attain fitness within one year. A commitment hearing was thereupon held in May 1981. Testimony was heard from five psychologists, three psychiatrists, one social worker, respondent's brother, and civilian workers as well as correctional officers employed by the Cook County Department of Corrections. At the conclusion of this hearing, respondent moved for a directed finding that his basic condition was that of an organic physical illness and, as a result thereof, he was developmentally disabled and not subject to involuntary commitment. This motion was denied.

On August 28, 1981, the circuit court entered an order finding that respondent met the criteria for involuntary admission *fn2 into a mental health facility designated by the Department. It was further ordered that the 1971 murder charge against respondent be dismissed with leave to reinstate. In accordance with the statutory periodic review provision (section 3-813 of the MHDD Code (1979)), the trial court has subsequently made six redeterminations of respondent's status as a person subject to involuntary commitment. On April 25, 1984, following the sixth redetermination, respondent filed a petition for a formal hearing into his fitness to stand trial for the 1971 murder charge. This petition was denied on May 17, 1984.

The present appeals, which have been consolidated in the interest of expediting a final disposition of this protracted matter, question the constitutionality of the term "mental illness" as used in section 1-119 of the MHDD Code and contest the propriety of four of the six recommitment orders, as well as the order denying respondent's petition for a formal fitness hearing. In view of the alternative nature of relief sought by respondent on these appeals, we shall defer consideration of the challenged redeterminations of involuntary admission and, at this time, will proceed to resolve only the question of respondent's right to a readjudication of his fitness to stand trial.

I

Based on the record of this case, we have determined that the immediate question to resolve concerns the issue of a current fitness hearing. Therefore, the threshold issue for resolution is whether the lower court's denial of the petition for such a hearing constituted an appealable order.

In Illinois, it is established law that the appealability of an order is to be determined by its substance as opposed to its form. (Branch v. European Autohaus, Ltd. (1981), 97 Ill. App.3d 949, 951, 424 N.E.2d 6.) For a judgment to be appealable, "[i]t need not dispose of all the issues presented by the pleadings, but it must be final in the sense that it disposes of the rights of the parties, either upon the entire controversy or some definite part thereof." People v. Nordstrom (1966), 73 Ill. App.2d 168, 176, 219 N.E.2d 151, appeal dismissed (1967), 37 Ill.2d 270.

• 1 It is our opinion that availability of appellate review exists where an individual such as respondent, who is faced with indefinite, involuntary civil commitment, has been denied a current readjudication of his fitness to stand trial. Although the lower court's ruling here was in no way terminative of the entire case on its merits, the fact remains that once such a ruling was made, respondent was entitled to determine if the court had, in fact, erred. The instant order was dispositive of a definite and separate part of the controversy; indeed, the only manner in which respondent's rights in this regard could have been vindicated or protected was through the appeal process. (See People v. Ealy (1977), 49 Ill. App.3d 922, 936-37, 365 N.E.2d 149.) Because of the unusual nature of this case, ...


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