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In re Barbara H.

October 22, 1998

IN RE BARBARA H.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harrison

Agenda 10-May 1998.

(The People of the State of Illinois et al.,Appellants, v. Barbara H., Appellee).

Following a hearing under chapter 3, article VIII, of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/3-800 et seq. (West 1996)), the circuit court of Kane County entered separate judgments committing Barbara H. to the Elgin Mental Health Center involuntarily and authorizing the staff of the center to administer psychotropic medication to her against her will. The appellate court consolidated the cases for review and reversed and remanded for a new hearing based on the public defender's waiver of Barbara H.'s right to be present at the hearing. Although section 3-806 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-806 (West 1996)) authorizes an attorney to waive his client's right to be present provided certain conditions are met, the appellate court declared the statute unconstitutional on its face on the grounds that it fails to meet minimum due process requirements. 288 Ill. App. 3d 360.

The State and the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities petitioned this court for leave to appeal as of right under Rule 317 (134 Ill. 2d R. 317) because the question of the statute's constitutionality arose for the first time in and as a result of action by the appellate court. We granted those petitions. We also allowed a group of law professors specializing in mental health law to file a brief as amici curiae. For the reasons that follow, we hold that the appellate court was correct in reversing the circuit court's judgments. Unlike the appellate court, however, we do not believe it necessary or appropriate to address the constitutionality of the statute. The circuit court's judgments are infirm because the requirements of the Mental Health Code were not satisfied. Those judgments are reversed outright, and these proceedings are terminated. If the State believes that Barbara H. remains in need of involuntary commitment and should be given psychotropic medication against her will, it must initiate new proceedings in the circuit court.

The controversy before us began two years ago, in 1996, when Barbara H. was alleged to be mentally ill and unable to care for her basic physical needs. On July 17 of that year, a social worker from the Northwest Community Hospital filed a petition under section 3-600 et seq. of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-600 et seq. (West 1996)) to have Barbara H. involuntarily admitted to the Elgin Mental Health Center. The petition was accompanied by two certificates indicating that Barbara H. was subject to involuntary admission and in need of immediate hospitalization (see 405 ILCS 5/3-611 (West 1996)). The first certificate was executed by a doctor from Northwest Community Hospital. The second was issued by a doctor from the Elgin Mental Health Center. On the same day the petition for involuntary admission was filed, the doctor from the Elgin Mental Health Center who issued the second certificate petitioned the circuit court under section 2-107.1 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/2-107.1 (West 1996)) for an order authorizing his facility's clinical staff to administer psychotropic medication to Barbara H. involuntarily.

A hearing on the psychotropic medication petition was set for July 26, 1996. A hearing on the petition for involuntary admission was initially scheduled for July 19, 1996. Both matters were subsequently continued, and a joint hearing on the two petitions was eventually conducted on August 2, 1996. Barbara H. was not present. Her appearance was waived by a public defender who was appointed to the case pursuant to a general administrative order entered by the circuit court. Based on this waiver, which was invoked under section 3-806 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-806 (West 1996)), the circuit court allowed the proceeding to go forward without Barbara H. At the Conclusion of that hearing, the circuit held that Barbara H. was subject to involuntary admission to the Elgin Mental Health Center for a period not to exceed 90 days. The court further held that Elgin's staff could administer psychotropic medication to Barbara H. against her will for the same 90-day period.

On appeal, Barbara H. asserted that the State had failed to adduce clear and convincing evidence showing the presence of the statutory factors necessary for involuntary administration of psychotropic medication under section 2-107.1 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/2-107.1 (West 1996)). She also contended that procedural requirements of that statute were not satisfied. Her primary argument, however, was that section 3-806 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-806 (West 1996)), which allowed the public defender to waive her presence at the August 2 hearing, was unconstitutional. According to Barbara H., the constitutional infirmity rendered both of the circuit court's judgments invalid, and those judgments should be reversed.

The appellate court did not address Barbara H.'s evidentiary or procedural challenges. It focused exclusively on her constitutional arguments regarding section 3-806. That statute provides:

"(a) The respondent shall be present at any hearing held under this Act unless his attorney waives his right to be present and the court is satisfied by a clear showing that the respondent's attendance would subject him to substantial risk of serious physical or emotional harm.

(b) The court shall make reasonable accommodation of any request by the recipient's attorney concerning the location of the hearing. If the recipient's attorney advises the court that the recipient refuses to attend, the hearing may proceed in his or her absence.

(c) No inference may be drawn from the recipient's non-attendance pursuant to either subsection (a) or (b) of this Section." 405 ILCS 5/3-806 (West 1996).

Agreeing with Barbara H.'s position, the appellate court held that she possesses a significant liberty interest in being free from unjustified civil commitment and in being protected from the involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs. This liberty interest is entitled to protection under the due process clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. XIV). Citing authority from the United States Supreme Court, the appellate court opined that the due process clause conferred on Barbara H. the right to attend the August 2 hearing unless she made a voluntary, intelligent or knowing waiver of that right or unless her conduct was so disruptive as to require her exclusion.

In the appellate court's view, section 3-806(a) of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-806(a) (West 1996)) does not adequately protect the due process rights of individuals in Barbara H.'s position because it would allow an attorney to waive his client's presence without requiring a finding by the court that the client is unable to make a rational choice herself about whether to attend or not. It is also infirm, according to the appellate court, because it does not require input from a health care professional as to (1) the client's ability to make a choice about attending and (2) whether her presence would cause harm. The result of these deficiencies, according to the appellate court, is that the attorney could exclude the client from the hearing even though the client wished to be present and her presence posed no risk to her well-being. The appellate court concluded that

"[t]his outcome is undoubtedly unconstitutional as it flies in the face of the clearly enunciated fundamental right that an individual has to be present at his civil commitment hearing. See Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605, 610, 18 L. Ed. 2d ...


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