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People v. Akers

December 23, 1998

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
CHARLES H. AKERS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of Sangamon County No. 97CF96

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Steigmann

IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS

Honorable Robert J. Eggers, Judge Presiding.

The sole question this appeal presents is whether a defendant in a sexually dangerous persons proceeding is entitled to a fitness hearing if a bona fide doubt about his fitness to stand trial is raised. We hold that the answer to this question is no.

I. BACKGROUND

In February 1997, the State charged defendant, Charles H. Akers, with criminal sexual assault and sexual relations within families (720 ILCS 5/12-13(a)(2), 11-11(a) (West 1996)). Later that month, defendant was indicted on the same charges, arraigned, and pleaded not guilty. In April 1997, the State petitioned the trial court to proceed under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (Act) (725 ILCS 205/0.01 et seq. (West 1996)). The court granted that petition and the State's motion to appoint two psychiatrists, Dr. Terry Killian and Dr. Joseph Bohlen, to examine defendant and report back to the court. Defense counsel made no objection to the State's motion but asked that defendant also be evaluated as to his fitness to stand trial. The State did not object to that motion, and the court granted it.

In May 1997, the State filed a petition to have the defendant declared a sexually dangerous person (SDP), alleging the following: (1) the charges then pending against defendant of criminal sexual assault and sexual relations within families; (2) defendant's prior conviction approximately 10 years earlier in Sangamon County of aggravated criminal sexual abuse of a child 13 years of age; and (3) both Killian and Bohlen had concluded that defendant is an SDP in that he suffers from a mental illness, pedophilia, which had existed for more than one year, and that he has a clear propensity to commit acts of sexual assault or sexual molestation of children. Copies of the psychiatrists' reports were attached to the State's petition.

The following week, the trial court conducted a hearing in this case for two stated reasons: (1) defense counsel's motion to have defendant "assessed for competency to stand trial"; and (2) the State's petition to have defendant declared an SDP. The prosecutor acknowledged that one of the psychiatric evaluations addressed the question of defendant's fitness and added the following: "I would note for the record, however, since this is technically a civil commitment, the case law indicates that [defendant] could be found sexually dangerous whether or not he was fit to stand trial." In response, defense counsel stated, "I don't see a problem with that. I think it [(apparently, the question of defendant's fitness)] was addressed in one of the reports." That latter remark apparently referred to one of the psychiatric evaluations that concluded that defendant was fit to stand trial. However, despite this reference to the fitness evaluation (with which the prosecutor agreed), the court added that "[i]f it's an issue that I don't need to face, we won't look at it."

No further Discussion occurred regarding the issue of defendant's fitness because defendant personally raised concerns with the trial court about how his counsel was representing him and about the need to have an additional psychiatric evaluation, which defendant claimed the military would pay for. Although the trial court expressed some skepticism about that, it agreed to continue the matter for an additional 30 days for a third evaluation of defendant, if he or his counsel were able to arrange for it.

In June 1997, the trial court reconvened and learned that no additional evaluation had been obtained. Defendant then admitted to the SDP petition after the court fully admonished him regarding the nature of the rights he was giving up and the consequences of the court's accepting his admission. The court accepted defendant's admission and noted that he was 72 years old. The court also accepted the stipulation of the parties--including defendant personally--to the admission of the reports of Killian and Bohlen for the court's consideration. The court then entered a finding that defendant was an SDP and ordered him committed to the Director of the Illinois Department of Corrections (Director), whom the court appointed to serve as defendant's guardian, in accordance with the Act's provisions. The SDP proceeding then concluded without anyone mentioning any issue pertaining to defendant's fitness to stand trial. Subsequently, defendant brought this appeal.

II. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that he was entitled to a fitness hearing before he could be found to be an SDP because a bona fide doubt had been raised as to his fitness to stand trial. He also argues that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when his attorney failed to ask for a hearing on defendant's fitness to stand trial in the SDP proceeding after a bona fide doubt had been raised about his fitness to stand trial. Because we conclude that a defendant's fitness to stand trial is irrelevant to a proceeding under the Act, we reject defendant's first argument and need not consider his second.

A. Fitness to Stand Trial

To determine whether fitness to stand trial may be an issue regarding a defendant in an SDP proceeding, we must first examine what fitness to stand trial means and why it is important. Section 104-10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963 (Code) provides as follows: "A defendant is presumed to be fit to stand trial or to plead, and be sentenced. A defendant is unfit if, because of his mental or physical condition, he is unable to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense." 725 ILCS 5/104-10 (West 1996). Section 104-11(a) of the Code provides that "[w]hen a bona fide ...


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