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06/20/96 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. RICHARD C. NITZ

June 20, 1996

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
RICHARD C. NITZ, APPELLANT.



The Honorable Justice Freeman delivered the opinion of the court: Justice Miller, dissenting: Chief Justice Bilandic and Justice Heiple join in this dissent.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Freeman

The Honorable Justice FREEMAN delivered the opinion of the court:

Following a jury trial in the circuit court of Williamson County, defendant, Richard Nitz, was convicted of murder, aggravated kidnapping and robbery. Defendant was sentenced to death for the murder conviction. On direct appeal, this court affirmed defendant's convictions and sentences. People v. Nitz, 143 Ill. 2d 82, 157 Ill. Dec. 431, 572 N.E.2d 895 (1991). A subsequent petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court was denied. Nitz v. Illinois, 502 U.S. 927, 116 L. Ed. 2d 283, 112 S. Ct. 344 (1991). Thereafter, defendant filed a petition seeking relief pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act. 725 ILCS 5/122--1 et seq. (West 1992). The petition was dismissed without an evidentiary hearing.

Because defendant was sentenced to death for the underlying murder conviction, the present appeal lies directly to this court. 134 Ill. 2d R. 651(a). For reasons that follow, we now reverse.

Defendant's convictions stem from the 1988 murder of Michael Miley. The particular facts surrounding the offenses for which defendant was convicted and sentenced are recounted in Nitz, 143 Ill. 2d 82, 157 Ill. Dec. 431, 572 N.E.2d 895, and restatement is unnecessary here.

In his petition for post-conviction relief, defendant asserted several claims which, he maintained, required the trial court either to grant him an evidentiary hearing or a new trial. The circuit court determined that defendant's claims were either waived or barred by res judicata and dismissed the petition.

We find a basis to reverse on a single one of defendant's claims. We, therefore, limit our discussion to that particular claim.

ANALYSIS

A proceeding filed under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122--1 et seq. (West 1992)) is not an appeal. Rather, the proceeding is a collateral attack on a prior conviction and sentence. People v. Mahaffey, 165 Ill. 2d 445, 452, 209 Ill. Dec. 246, 651 N.E.2d 174 (1995). The scope of the proceeding is limited to constitutional matters involved in the underlying conviction which have not been, and could not have been, previously adjudicated. People v. Whitehead, 169 Ill. 2d 355, 370, 215 Ill. Dec. 164, 662 N.E.2d 1304, (1996). Accordingly, determinations of the reviewing court on direct appeal are res judicata as to issues actually decided and issues that could have been raised on direct appeal, but were not, are waived. People v. Coleman, 168 Ill. 2d 509, 522, 660 N.E.2d 919, 214 Ill. Dec. 212 (1995).

In this appeal, defendant contends, inter alia, that he is entitled to a new trial because the State withheld information that it was administering psychotropic medication to him throughout the course of his trial and sentencing. The State's failure to disclose this information deprived him of his constitutional due process right to a fitness or competency hearing. Defendant presents two separate bases, either of which, he maintains, support reversal of his convictions and the grant of a new trial. Prior to addressing the particular arguments, we consider the nature and scope of the due process right in the context of an accused's competency to stand trial.

The due process clause of the fourteenth amendment prohibits the prosecution of a person who is unfit to stand trial. U.S. Const., amend. XIV; see also Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, 120 L. Ed. 2d 353, 112 S. Ct. 2572 (1992); see also People v. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d 501, 512, 161 Ill. Dec. 306, 578 N.E.2d 952 (1991). A defendant is considered unfit to stand trial if, because of a mental or physical condition, he is unable to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d at 512. As Justice Kennedy recently emphasized, "competence to stand trial is rudimentary, for upon it depends the main part of those rights deemed essential to a fair trial, including the right to effective assistance of counsel, the rights to summon, to confront, and to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to testify on one's own behalf or to remain silent without penalty for doing so." Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127, 139-40, 118 L. Ed. 2d 479, 492, 112 S. Ct. 1810, 1817 (1992) (Kennedy, J., concurring). Absent facts which raise a bona fide doubt of fitness, there is an abiding presumption that a defendant is fit to stand trial. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d at 512.

Part and parcel of the right not to be tried while unfit is the right to have an inquiry concerning fitness. More specifically, where there is information available to raise the possibility that an accused is incompetent, the failure to inquire concerning competency violates the accused's due process rights. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815, 86 S. Ct. 836 (1966); see also Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 43 L. Ed. 2d 103, 95 S. Ct. 896 (1975).

Long before the Supreme Court's pronouncement in Pate, Illinois recognized that the denial of an opportunity to sustain a plea of insanity is itself a denial of the safeguard of due process. In Brown v. People, 8 Ill. 2d 540, 545, 134 N.E.2d 760 (1956), this court held that "it [is] the duty of the court, when a bona fide issue of sanity [is] raised, to determine that issue." See also People v. Burson, 11 Ill. 2d 360, 370, 143 N.E.2d 239 (1957). The failure to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant's right not to be tried while unfit deprive him of due process. People v. Murphy, 72 Ill. 2d 421, 430, 21 Ill. Dec. 350, 381 N.E.2d 677 (1978).

Illinois jealously guards an incompetent criminal defendant's fundamental right not to stand trial. The comprehensiveness of our statutory provisions concerning fitness for trial, to plead or be sentenced serve to illustrate this point. See 725 ILCS 5/104--10 et seq. (West 1992). Indeed, the right not to stand trial while incompetent is sufficiently important to merit protection even if the defendant has failed to make a timely request for a competency determination. See 725 ILCS 5/104--11(a) (West 1992) (issue of fitness for trial, to plead, or to be sentenced may be raised by the defense, the State, or the court at any appropriate time before a plea is entered or before, during, or after trial); see also Pate, 383 U.S. 375, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815, 86 S. Ct. 836. Furthermore, where it is shown that at the time of trial certain facts existed which, had they been known to the circuit court at the time of trial, would have raised a bona fide doubt of fitness, the issue of fitness may be properly raised in a petition for post-conviction relief. See People v. Smith, 44 Ill. 2d 82, 254 N.E.2d 492 (1969); People V. McLain, 37 Ill. 2d 173, 226 N.E.2d 21 (1967); People v. Harris, 113 Ill. App. 3d 663, 69 Ill. Dec. 506, 447 N.E.2d 941 (1983).

With these principles in mind, we consider the merits of defendant's due process claim. Defendant contends that the State's failure to disclose that it administered psychotropic medication to him during the course of trial deprived him of a fitness hearing and, thus, due process of law. The State does not dispute defendant's assertions concerning the medication but, instead, raises ...


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