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The People of the Stateof Illinois v. Dwayne Houston

March 7, 2011

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATEOF ILLINOIS,
PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
DWAYNE HOUSTON,
DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. No. 06-CF-931 Honorable John T. Phillips, Judge, Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice McLAREN

Opinion

JUSTICE McLAREN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Presiding Justice Jorgensen and Justice Burke concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Defendant, Dwayne Houston, was charged with predatory criminal sexual assault, but he was found unfit to stand trial and was placed in the custody of the Department of Human Services. In August 2007, the trial court extended the Department's custody of defendant by two years. See 725 ILCS 5/104-25(d)(1) (West 2006). Following an evidentiary hearing on March 23, 2009, the trial court found that defendant remained unfit to stand trial, that he was subject to involuntary admission under the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Mental Health Code) (405 ILCS 5/1-100 et seq. (West 2008)), and that he constituted a serious threat to the public safety. The trial court ordered defendant remanded to the Department for further treatment for a term ending in August 2037. In an unsuccessful motion for reconsideration, defendant indicated that his mother, Salys Henderson, was his legal guardian and that she had not been notified of the March 23, 2009, hearing. Defendant argues on appeal that the failure to provide notice to Henderson requires a new hearing. We disagree and affirm.

According to defendant, the failure to notify his legal guardian violated provisions of the Mental Health Code that he contends are applicable in proceedings for the commitment of a defendant who has been found unfit to stand trial. Defendant alternatively argues that, even if notice to his guardian was not required by statute, the failure to notify her deprived him of due process of law. Defendant faces a significant procedural hurdle in raising these arguments, however. As the State correctly observes, although defendant's motion for reconsideration raised the issue of improper notice, defendant made no objection either prior to or at the March 23, 2009, commitment hearing itself. Indeed, there is nothing in the record suggesting that, before defendant raised the issue in his motion for reconsideration, either the State or the trial court was aware that defendant had a legal guardian. To preserve an issue for appellate review, the defendant normally must object at trial and raise the issue in a posttrial motion. People v. Enoch, 122 Ill. 2d 176, 186 (1988). Under Enoch, both steps must be taken or the issue will be forfeited.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 615(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 1967), which applies in criminal cases, carves out an exception to the forfeiture doctrine. That rule provides that "[p]lain errors or defects affecting substantial rights may be noticed although they were not brought to the attention of the trial court."

Ill. S. Ct. R. 615(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 1967). Appellate review under the plain-error rule is available when "(1) a clear or obvious error occurred and the evidence is so closely balanced that the error alone threatened to tip the scales of justice against the defendant, regardless of the seriousness of the error, or (2) a clear or obvious error occurred and that error is so serious that it affected the fairness of the defendant's trial and challenged the integrity of the judicial process, regardless of the closeness of the evidence." People v. Piatkowski, 225 Ill. 2d 551, 565 (2007).

Significantly, our supreme court has specifically noted that "an unpreserved error will not be 'noticed' under Rule 615(a) unless it is 'clear or obvious.' [Citation.]" In re M.W., 232 Ill. 2d 408, 431 (2009).

Defendant does not invoke the standard formulation of the plain-error rule. Instead, he maintains that, even if he forfeited the issue of notice to his guardian, we may consider the issue under principles set forth in cases arising from civil commitment proceedings. As this court noted in In re Rovelstad, 281 Ill. App. 3d 956 (1996):

"[A] long line of involuntary admission cases has held that '(e)rrors demonstrating noncompliance with the statutory provisions that appear on the face of the record may render a judgment erroneous even if not raised at trial; furthermore, such errors may be considered on appeal under a doctrine analogous to plain error.' " Id. at 966 (quoting In re Martens, 269 Ill. App. 3d 324, 327 (1995)).

As thus described, this plain-error analogue is not limited to errors that are clear or obvious and that either undermine the integrity of the proceeding or threaten to tip the balance in a close case.

Unlike the civil commitment proceedings in Rovelstad and Martens, the hearing that culminated with the remand of defendant to the Department for further treatment was part of a criminal prosecution. At that hearing, the trial court considered not only whether defendant was subject to involuntary admission under the Mental Health Code, but also whether he constituted a serious threat to public safety. 725 ILCS ...


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