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People v. Maher

July 21, 2000


Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 99MH25 Honorable Ronald C. Dozier, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cook


In March 1999, the trial court found respondent, Christopher Maher, subject to involuntary admission to a mental health facility. Respondent appeals, arguing that (1) the trial court questioned a witness in chambers ex parte and then called the witness to testify, becoming an advocate for the State and depriving him of a fair trial, (2) the trial court misapplied the standard of proof and placed the burden of proof on respondent, (3) the State failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence he was subject to involuntary commitment, (4) his commitment was not in compliance with the emergency-admission-by-certificate procedures of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/3-600 et seq. (West 1998)), and multiple procedural deficiencies occurred in transferring him to the mental health center. We affirm.


On March 16, 1999, a petition for emergency admission by certificate was filed by a crisis therapist pursuant to section 3-601 of the Mental Health Code (405 ILCS 5/3-601 (West 1998)) on the grounds respondent was mentally ill and, because of his illness, was reasonably expected to inflict serious physical harm on himself or another in the near future. Two certificates supporting the petition were prepared and filed that day. The certificates were prepared by an emergency room physician at BroMenn Hospital and by Dr. Robert Scott Hamilton, a psychiatrist. The certificates contained allegations respondent had barricaded or "isolated" himself in his room at his parents' house and threatened his parents.

A hearing on the petition took place on March 19. Stephen Maher, respondent's father, testified respondent began engaging in "aberrant behavior" as an adolescent. Respondent verbally harassed and physically abused his younger brothers and sister "beyond that which might have been expected of *** an adolescent." In 1977, Stephen and his wife obtained counseling for respondent and the family. The counselor diagnosed respondent with "passive-aggressive disorder." Counseling was discontinued after several months because respondent was uncooperative.

Stephen stated respondent continued to engage in violent behavior, such as breaking items, kicking doors, and beating his brothers and sister. At one time Stephen attempted to pull respondent away from his brother, who was eight years younger than respondent, and respondent struck a blow to Stephen's forehead, breaking his eyeglasses. On another occasion, Stephen's daughter called him at work because respondent had been "violent to her" and, when Stephen returned home, he found respondent had cut his sister's hand with a knife.

Respondent abused alcohol, drove his car through the family's yard and verbally abused his family with "loud and distasteful language." Stephen testified respondent was convicted of either aggravated assault or aggravated battery for assaulting a video store clerk who tried to detain him when he stole some merchandise. Respondent was also convicted of multiple incidents of driving under the influence of alcohol and driving while license revoked, spending periods of incarceration in the county jail. He was found to be unfit to stand trial in a criminal case and hospitalized for several months until he was found to be fit. A psychologist who evaluated respondent at that time diagnosed him with organic brain disorder induced by drug abuse as opposed to head trauma. At that time, respondent was using cannabis, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and cocaine. Respondent was convicted and sentenced to four years in the correctional facility at Dixon but only served six months.

Stephen and his wife enrolled respondent in a substance-abuse rehabilitation program at Lutheran General Hospital, but respondent did not successfully complete treatment. He did later stop using cocaine on his own and had abstained from alcohol for nine years.

While living with his parents from 1993 through March 1998, respondent obtained a psychiatric evaluation in which he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive disorder) and schizophrenia. Respondent received counseling and medication and obtained employment as a cook and a janitor. His behavior improved although he had occasional "outbursts." In March 1998, respondent moved to Milwaukee. There he continued treatment with Dr. Bott, a psychiatrist who prescribed Thorazine and Cogentin. Stephen was aware respondent was not taking his medication in the quantity Dr. Bott prescribed. Dr. Bott told Stephen he did not really have a diagnosis for respondent's disorder but was treating him according to his "basic regimen" for a patient with personality disorders.

On March 7, 1999, respondent returned to his parents' Bloomington residence. Respondent was upset the family dog died and wanted to know who had killed the dog and if he had been poisoned. Stephen told respondent the dog died a natural death, but the dog had actually been euthanized. In the evening hours of March 15, Stephen asked respondent to leave the room because he was directing foul remarks to his mother, who was in a great deal of pain from a broken arm. Respondent began talking about the dog and warned Stephen, "Satan is going to get you folks."

Stephen told respondent he was going to get counseling for him. Respondent threatened to load his 30-30 and his 9-millimeter gun and "blow away" anyone that walked through the door. Stephen knew a .25-caliber handgun and a 30-30 were chained to a steel support pole in the basement. He thought respondent had a key to the lock. Stephen never saw a 9-millimeter gun, but he had a receipt he thought represented a down payment for such a weapon. Then he stated, "It does not mean that one exist [sic]."

With his wife locked in the master bedroom, Stephen left for the crisis center because he was afraid to telephone for help from his residence. The crisis team suggested police intervention. When Stephen returned home, his wife was frightened because she thought she heard a gun being cocked. Stephen and his wife left the house immediately. Neither of them was physically harmed during the episode.

Detective Clay Wheeler was called in as a police negotiator at about 8 p.m. on March 15, 1999, for what he was told was a barricaded subject possibly holding hostages. He telephoned the Maher residence, but respondent would not initially answer the phone. Wheeler left about eight messages on the answering machine before respondent called him back about 30 minutes later. Wheeler talked with respondent for about an hour. Respondent told him Stephen was to blame for the incident because he was intoxicated and had ridiculed respondent. Respondent mentioned his dog of 14 years had died. He also stated if his parents were dead he "would tear [his sister] apart." Wheeler tried to convince respondent to meet with him face to face, but respondent refused. Wheeler told respondent he knew about the threats respondent made toward his parents and the police needed to come into the house. Respondent admitted to Wheeler guns were in the house.

After about an hour, respondent said he was tired and going to bed, and he hung up the phone. Wheeler did not get any response to about 27 more telephone calls to the house.

Officers tried to talk with respondent over a megaphone until respondent talked to Wheeler a second time on the phone. This time, respondent said he "would take care of his Dad" if he lost his housing income and the "next time" the police came out "it would be a lot more of a problem to get him out of the house." Wheeler convinced respondent to surrender at 4:25 a.m. on March 16. Respondent did not resist the police when he walked out of the house. The officers entered the house and found the guns still secured in the basement.

Dr. Hamilton testified he was called in by the crisis team. Members of the crisis team as well as respondent's parents told him respondent "had threatened physical violence" and they were concerned respondent might have access to a gun. Dr. Hamilton first talked to respondent about 1 a.m. on March 16. After respondent was in custody, Dr. Hamilton learned respondent had not been armed, but the police negotiator told him respondent had ...

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