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11/21/96 PEOPLE STATE ILLINOIS v. JOHN R. SANDHAM

November 21, 1996

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN R. SANDHAM, APPELLANT.



The Honorable Justice Heiple delivered the opinion of the court.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Heiple

The Honorable Justice HEIPLE delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, John R. Sandham, was convicted after a bench trial in the circuit court of Livingston County of one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (720 ILCS 5/12--16 (West 1992)) and sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment. The appellate court affirmed (276 Ill. App. 3d 86, 657 N.E.2d 719, 212 Ill. Dec. 518), and this court subsequently granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal (155 Ill. 2d R. 315). Defendant argues before this court that his conviction must be reversed and a new trial ordered because (1) the trial court failed to secure defendant's written jury waiver and his oral waiver was not made understandingly; (2) the trial court failed to conduct a fitness hearing when a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness arose and when evidence was elicited that defendant may have been taking psychotropic medication; (3) hearsay evidence was improperly admitted; and (4) the evidence was insufficient to find defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For the reasons expressed below, we reverse defendant's conviction and remand for a new trial based upon our determination that a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness arose following which no fitness hearing was held. Accordingly, we do not reach defendant's remaining arguments.

In deciding this cause, we recount only those facts necessary to disposing of the issues raised in this appeal.

I. Fitness of Defendant

Defendant's dual contentions regarding his fitness to stand trial are: (1) that a bona fide doubt regarding his fitness arose which required the trial court to, sua sponte, conduct a fitness hearing pursuant to section 104--11 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (725 ILCS 5/104--11 (West 1992)); and (2) that evidence of his ingestion of psychotropic medications at or about the time of trial required the court to conduct a fitness hearing pursuant to section 104--21(a) of the Code (725 ILCS 5/104--21(a) (West 1992)). Insofar as the trial court never held a fitness hearing, defendant contends that his conviction must be reversed. The State counters that defendant has waived his fitness arguments by failing to raise them either at trial or in his post-trial motions. The right to be fit for trial, however, is fundamental. People v. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d 501, 512-13, 161 Ill. Dec. 306, 578 N.E.2d 952 (1991). Accordingly, prosecuting a defendant where there is a bona fide doubt as to that defendant's fitness renders the proceeding fundamentally unfair and we review this contention under the plain error rule. 134 Ill. 2d R. 615(a).

Due process bars prosecuting or sentencing a defendant who is not competent to stand trial. Eddmonds, 143 Ill. 2d at 512-13. Fitness to stand trial requires that a defendant understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him and be able to assist in his defense. 725 ILCS 5/104--10 (West 1992). Although a defendant's fitness is presumed by statute (725 ILCS 5/104--10 (West 1992)), the circuit court has a duty to order a fitness hearing, sua sponte, any time a bona fide doubt arises regarding a defendant's ability to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings or assist in his defense. Whether a bona fide doubt as to a defendant's fitness has arisen is generally a matter within the discretion of the trial court. People v. Murphy, 72 Ill. 2d 421, 431, 21 Ill. Dec. 350, 381 N.E.2d 677 (1978).

Here, defense counsel never requested a fitness hearing pursuant to section 104--11 of the Code and defendant maintains that the trial court abused its discretion in not recognizing, sua sponte, that a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness existed. In support defendant points to various portions of the record which he claims raised a bona fide doubt as to his fitness prior to trial or, in the alternative, prior to sentencing.

The first suggestion that there may have been a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness occurred on April 22, 1993, when defendant's public defender made an oral motion to the court requesting permission to engage a psychiatrist to determine whether defendant was fit to stand trial. The court granted leave and instructed defense counsel to prepare a written motion and proposed order to that effect. However, on that same date a private attorney appeared and was substituted as counsel for defendant. Once the public defender was discharged, the psychiatric evaluation motion that had been orally allowed by the judge was never referred to or acted upon by the newly retained counsel. The record provides no explanation for this.

The case was subsequently set for a bench trial on May 28, 1993. However, on May 14, 1993, less than one month after the public defender's request to engage a psychiatrist, another event indicating that there was a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness occurred. On that date, defense counsel filed a motion to continue the trial indefinitely because defendant had been unable to cooperate with defense counsel except with difficulty up through May 4, 1993, and because defendant had been committed to the BroMenn psychiatric ward. The court granted the motion and reset the trial for July 16, 1993, which was later continued to September 13, 1993. The record is silent as to the purpose, duration or treatment provided defendant in the psychiatric ward.

Not silent, however, was the defendant. On March 30, 1993, and July 8, 1993, defendant sent separate letters to the trial judge, both of which defendant argues evidence a bona fide doubt as to his fitness. The March 30 letter, which preceded the public defender's request for a psychiatric evaluation, asked the court to "give me 14 years straight time. No good time or supplemental. 14 straight years. Then I can proceed with my real life and have no regrets about ending this one." (Emphasis added.) While the defendant's reference to his "real life" may have been odd, the letter was respectful in tone. This is in marked contrast to the letter of July 8, 1993, which was written after defendant's commitment to the BroMenn psychiatric ward. The July 8 letter was exceedingly hostile and profane, describing in explicit terms the sexual aggressions defendant associated with prison life. It further explained, rather incoherently, that the judge sends "innocents" such as defendant to prison whereupon the judge collects his paycheck and absolves this sin at the Lutheran church on Sundays. The letter then curses the judge using a variety of expletives and laments that defendant will be the next person to go to prison because the judge does not use his position and power to stop it. In a similar vein, we observe the judge's statement in the record that defendant also made several threatening phone calls to him during the time period defendant was writing these letters.

Defendant was eventually discharged from the psychiatric ward, whereupon a bench trial followed and defendant was convicted of aggravated criminal sexual abuse (720 ILCS 5/12--16 (West 1992)). Defendant argues that during the ensuing March 1, 1994, sentencing hearing, additional testimony transpired which raised a bona fide doubt as to defendant's fitness. First defendant notes the testimony of the complainant's mother, who testified that she knew the defendant personally and that the defendant, "wasn't all the way there *** [that there] would be days he would be okay, but there would be other days he'd run outside and start praying to God real loud. *** There was times he never did act normal."

Defendant next refers this court to his father's testimony at the sentencing hearing regarding the Carl Pfeiffer Treatment Center's psychological evaluation of defendant, which was conducted prior to the sentencing hearing. Though the trial court was provided a copy of and considered the evaluation at the sentencing hearing, the evaluation is not contained in the record. We thus consider only those references to the evaluation found in the record.

Defendant's father testified that the evaluation suggested that defendant had a slight chemical imbalance and that defendant had a slight case of schizophrenia. The Pfeiffer Center recommended a three-month treatment regimen after which defendant would be reevaluated. Part of the difficulty in evaluating defendant, according to defendant's father, was the medication prescribed to defendant at the Menard ...


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