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In re Dennis D.

February 11, 1999

IN RE DENNIS D., FOUND TO BE A PERSON SUBJECT TO INVOLUNTARY ADMISSION, (THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PETITIONER-APPELLEE,
v.
DENNIS D., RESPONDENT-APPELLANT).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Greiman

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Honorable Bernetta D. Bush, Judge Presiding.

Respondent Dennis D. appeals from a jury verdict finding him subject to involuntary admission and the trial court's order of hospitalization pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/1--100 et seq. (West 1996)). On appeal, he contends that his involuntary admission must be reversed because the trial court erred when it denied counsel's motion to withdraw and refused his request to represent himself without first ascertaining whether he had the capacity to make an informed waiver as required by section 3--805 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3--805 (West 1996)).

For the reasons that follow, we reverse.

On April 3, 1998, a social worker signed a petition for respondent's involuntary admission, and a trial by jury was set for May 5, 1998. On May 4, 1998, respondent informed his counsel that he did not wish her to represent him at trial. Counsel moved for leave to withdraw prior to trial and informed the court that respondent intended to proceed pro se.

On the day of trial, counsel informed the court that she was unable to prepare her defense because respondent had refused to permit her to review his medical chart. Counsel indicated that she had told respondent that she would have to withdraw if she could not prepare, and respondent said he did not want her representation. Counsel also indicated that she believed that she and respondent differed with regard to trial strategy, but she did not really know why respondent wanted her to withdraw. Respondent had informed her that he wanted to proceed with the trial without representation.

The trial court denied the motion, respondent objected, and the court repeated that the motion was denied. Respondent then said that, "She looked into my files and talked about my mother. I do not want her as my lawyer." The court again stated that the motion was denied, and they were going to proceed.

After voir dire, respondent said, "I want my lawyer fired. I refuse to have her as my lawyer. I will represent myself. Or, I will not participate in anything." When the trial court again stated that respondent's motion had been denied, respondent stated that the process was "illegal," and he did not accept it. The trial court offered to excuse respondent, who countered that the court could arrest him and the court could not "force [him] to stay here." Respondent, again stating that the proceeding was

--illegal if he could not represent himself, was escorted from the courtroom. The trial court told the jury that respondent had a right to waive his presence and that it should not be taken "as any kind of evidence or testimony."

At the trial that followed, the evidence established that respondent suffered from a schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. Respondent had threatened hospital staff and had attempted suicide. His attending psychiatrist predicted that respondent's behavior would worsen because of respondent's unpredictability and increased agitation. The jury returned a verdict finding respondent subject to involuntary admission and the court ordered respondent committed.

Respondent contends that the trial court erred in refusing his counsel's motion to withdraw and his request to represent himself. Section 3--805 of the Mental Health Code provides as follows:

"Every respondent alleged to be subject to involuntary admission shall be represented by counsel. If the respondent is indigent or an appearance has not been entered on his behalf at the time the matter is set for hearing, the court shall appoint counsel for him. A hearing shall not proceed when a respondent is not represented by counsel unless, after conferring with counsel, the respondent requests to represent himself and the court is satisfied that the respondent has the capacity to make an informed waiver of his right to counsel." 405 ILCS 5/3--805 (West 1996).

Respondent argues that this statute and relevant case law require reversal in this case because the trial court denied his requests to proceed pro se without any inquiry as to his capacity to waive counsel.

In In re Phyliss P., 182 Ill. 2d 400, 401 (1998), the supreme court reaffirmed the well-established rule in Illinois that all adults are presumed legally competent to direct their legal affairs. The supreme court found it improper for the appellate court to require individuals who had been adjudicated mentally ill to file certificates demonstrating their legal competency before the court would dismiss their appeals. Phyliss, 182 Ill. 2d at 403. Although the individuals had been adjudicated mentally ill pursuant to the Mental Health Code, the court stated that "they nevertheless enjoy a presumption of competency to direct their legal affairs. As the Mental Health Code explicitly provides, '[n]o recipient of services shall be presumed legally ...


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