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The People of the State of Illinois v. Charles Jackson

May 3, 2011


Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 07 CR 18183 Honorable Nicholas Ford, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Harris

JUSTICE HARRIS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Cunningham concurred in the judgment and opinion. Justice Connors dissented, with opinion.


After a bench trial, defendant, Charles Jackson, was found guilty of first degree murder, but mentally ill. At trial, defendant raised the defense of insanity. On appeal, he asks that this court excuse his procedural default and address whether the trial court abandoned its role as a neutral and impartial arbiter and denied him a fair trial by: (1) assuming the role of prosecutor when questioning defendant's expert witness in regard to defendant's sanity; (2) by interjecting its own personal knowledge of matters outside the record in considering defendant's IQ score and Cook County jail's psychotropic medication distribution practices; and (3) by disregarding evidence of defendant's brain damage and the defense expert's testimony regarding the antipsychotic medication Risperdal.*fn1 We hold the trial court abandoned its role as a neutral and impartial arbiter of fact by adopting a prosecutorial role when questioning defendant's expert witness and by relying on matters based on private knowledge of the trial court that were outside the record.


The circuit court sentenced defendant on June 15, 2009. Defendant timely filed his notice of appeal on the day he was sentenced. Accordingly, this court has jurisdiction pursuant to article VI, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution and Illinois Supreme Court Rules 603 and 606, governing appeals from a final judgment of conviction in a criminal case entered below. Ill. Const. 1970, art. VI, §6; Ill S. Ct. R. 603 (eff. Oct. 1, 2010); R. 606 (eff. Mar. 20, 2009).


Defendant was charged with first degree murder for the shooting of his son-in-law, Pierre Champliss. The shooting in question occurred sometime between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. on July 27, 2007, the facts of which are not contested by the parties. The evidence at trial established that defendant lived in the garage of a house owned by his elderly mother, Lillian Jackson. Defendant's daughter, Farrah Jackson, lived with her husband, Pierre Champliss, and their two children in the basement apartment of the house. Lola Connors, a family friend, also rented a room in the house. At the time of the incident, defendant was sitting on the front porch of the house with Connors, Caroline Jackson (defendant's sister), Regina Lee (defendant's niece), and Larry Edwards (defendant's brother-in-law). They were waiting for the ambulance that was transporting Lillian home from the hospital. Champliss was in front of the house waiting for his wife Farrah to come home. Connors testified that Champliss was walking up and down the sidewalk in the front of the house verbally abusing defendant and talking about what he was going to do to defendant and Caroline. At that time, the ambulance arrived, but was waiting in the driveway for a second ambulance to arrive so the paramedics could assist in carrying Lillian into the house.

Champliss approached defendant with his right fist in his left hand, striking it repeatedly. Connors testified that Champliss had threatened to kill defendant on "many occasions." Defendant and Champliss were arguing over who was going to take Lillian Jackson's possessions once she passed away. Champliss was very close to defendant's face and told defendant "that's what I thought and walked away." Defendant then went to the back of the house. Shortly after, defendant returned to the front of the house with a shotgun in his hand. Defendant then fired a shot at Champliss, who was standing at the front gate of the house. Champliss then ran across the street and fell. Defendant followed Champliss and shot him again. As Champliss was on the ground, defendant stated, "you can't talk now, can you?" Defendant shot Champliss again. Defendant also fired shots into Champliss's body as he stood over him.

Defendant then walked back across the street toward the house with the shotgun in his hand. He stated, "where is my daughter? I kill her too." By then, Farrah, defendant's daughter had arrived home. She was standing by her car as defendant approached and threatened her. At this point, defendant was in the middle of the street, trying to load the gun, but the gun was jammed. Farrah was walking toward her basement apartment. When Farrah reached her apartment, her daughter told her that Champliss was outside. She then ran out the door and the police were outside. Farrah did not see defendant again until trial. Connors and Caroline Jackson did not see defendant return to the house after the shooting. Defendant then went to the liquor store, bought alcohol, and then went to the park across the street and watched the investigation.

On August 5, 2007, Officer Roberto Sena responded to an assignment over dispatch for a person wanted for murder. In responding to the assignment, he saw defendant riding his bicycle. Officer Sena spoke with Champliss's family and friends, who were in a car following defendant. Champliss's family and friends informed Officer Sena of defendant's name. When Officer Sena asked defendant his name, defendant told him a different name. Officer Sena then viewed a picture of defendant in the computer system to confirm that he was speaking with defendant. As Officer Sena approached him, defendant asked for a lawyer. Officer Sena informed defendant of his Miranda rights and then placed him under arrest.

Following defendant's arrest, he was taken to Cermak Health Services. At Cermak, defendant began receiving the medications Risperdal and doxepin. He was also later prescribed Zoloft. Defendant then went from Cermak to the residential treatment unit at the Cook County jail, where he remained until his conviction.

The autopsy on Champliss's body revealed that he had a shotgun wound to the right upper chest, two shotgun wounds in the left chest area, and two shotgun wounds over the left, lower abdomen.

At his bench trial, defendant raised the defense of insanity. Defendant presented the expert testimony of Dr. Bruce Frumkin, an expert in forensic psychology, who testified that defendant was not sane at the time of the offense. Dr. Frumkin opined that defendant's insanity was the result of the mental defect of persisting dementia due to substance abuse and the mental illness of psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified. The trial court interjected during Dr. Frumkin's testimony numerous times. The following paragraphs contain the interjections of note from the record made by the trial court during the direct examination of Dr. Frumkin.

Dr. Frumkin testified that he relied on an interview with defendant, psychological tests, interviews with family members, records, and police reports in formulating his opinion. On direct examination, defense counsel asked him about the importance of reviewing defendant's health records from Cermak Health Services, and the following colloquy took place:

"A. Well, one is that these are mental health professionals who saw [defendant] soon after the alleged offense. So, you know, evaluating insanity is retrospective analysis going back in time - -

THE COURT: [Interrupting] When there are psychological records proceeding the date of offense, it wouldn't be retrospective?

THE WITNESS: No. But it is important to look at that as well.

THE COURT: Was there any in this case?


Defense counsel then asked Dr. Frumkin whether he asked any other people to perform testing on defendant. The trial court interjected a question regarding a test that Dr. Frumkin had not requested to be performed on defendant.

"A. After I had done my evaluation of [defendant], I had a strong suspicion that there may be some neuropsychological issues with the Defendant. So, I called upon Dr. Robert Heilbronner to do a neuropsychological examination. Dr. Heilbronner, in addition to doing an interview with [defendant], did a number of neuropsychological tests.

THE COURT: As well as neurological tests?

THE WITNESS: Neuropsychological.

THE COURT: I know. Did you also make a referral to do a neurological?


The trial court next asked Dr. Frumkin for confirmation that defendant had attended college and from what school.

"THE COURT: Did you confirm attendance and degree status there?



THE WITNESS: But I mean it was confirmed in speaking to family members. They talked of him having gone to college.

THE COURT: Gone or become degreed?"

Dr. Frumkin testified that defendant notified him that he had injuries from boxing, a motor vehicle accident, and chronic substance abuse, and that he was exposed to paint and solvents without protective masks. The trial court stated;

"THE COURT: This is all self-reported. In other words, I'm looking for any exterior, outside corroboration ***.

THE WITNESS: Sure. That's all self-reported. ***. *** THE COURT: Did you get any military records about it? THE WITNESS: No."

The trial court asked Dr. Frumkin whether defendant was on any medication at the time of his examination. When Dr. Frumkin answered by describing the medicine defendant had been on, the trial court again interjected, questioning Dr. Frumkin's area of expertise.

"THE COURT: Is he on any other medication at the time of your or Dr. Heilbronner's examination?


THE COURT: What are those?

THE WITNESS: He was on Risperdal, ***. *** THE COURT: You are not a physician though, are you? THE WITNESS: I'm not a physician, but what were you going to ask?

THE COURT: One of them is a heroin derivative, isn't it? Doxepin? They are both scheduled narcotics?


THE COURT: But that's outside of his area of expertise. *** THE COURT: Doctor, I have to pause here. I don't believe that is an area of expertise for you. He's not a physician.

He can't give drugs. He doesn't know even what is contained within the drug. This isn't anything he can prescribe. And unless he can identify how a psychologist can testify about the effects of medicine, because they can't prescribe them, I'm going to exclude that testimony."

Dr. Frumkin testified that an unidentified individual at Cermak, who had seen defendant soon after he was taken into custody, diagnosed defendant as having psychotic disorder, not otherwise specified. The following exchange then took place after the trial court asked Dr. Frumkin if he had looked at the Cermak records:

"THE WITNESS: A psychology intern diagnosed [defendant] as having rule out schizophrenia, paranoid type and also psychotic disorder not otherwise specified. Which was not a rule out.

THE COURT: What is that intern's name?

THE WITNESS: [witness could not read intern's name] *** THE COURT: You said there *** were several opinions in line with what you made. So far you identified one, which was not an opinion, but possibly the case. But if you have an opinion in there that you relied on from another psychiatrist or psychologist that you say is in line with that, that's something I want to know.

THE WITNESS: I mean all the records from Cermak are all uniformly describing him as someone who is very delusional.

THE COURT: The question is: Is there an opinion in there from anyone that says he's suffering from the same mental disease or defect that you are asserting he's suffering from, or even at the time of admission to Cermak?

THE WITNESS: Most common diagnosis is psychotic disorder not otherwise specified.

THE COURT: You indicated one as a rule out. Thats not a diagnosis. I know you know that. My question is: Is there a diagnosis consistent with what we both know to be a diagnosis, consistent with yourself. I really want to know that. If there is, tell me and identify the Doctor's name. I know the writing is bad on

that one intern report?

THE WITNESS: Let me look.

THE COURT: I think that is important. I want to know his mental status at [the] time he's there. I'd like to know that.

THE COURT: I want you to go through that first and see if you can find that for me. If that record there indicates there was a prior diagnosis from a psychiatrist or psychologist?

THE WITNESS: Right, okay. But he is being prescribed antipsychotic medication.

THE COURT: I mean you have done work at other institutions. I'm told that's given in circumstances where somebody would not meet the DSM III requirement for mental illness. They are given proactively for people in incarcerated circumstances. That's why it is important for me. I want to know, you know, there was a diagnosis here.


THE COURT: I am going to consider the fact he was on drugs, obviously I want to know if the issuance of the drugs is predicated on a diagnosis from a Doctor, either psychological or psychiatric. Take as much time as you'd like.

THE WITNESS: Okay. [thereby the witness has difficulty reading the name of the evaluator on the Cermak initial psychiatric form]***

THE COURT: ***. Is there some indication that person is a professional?

THE WITNESS: Well, they call it a psychiatric assessment. THE COURT: You are going to make that conclusion that the person went to school for eight years and got a full internship and practiced in the field? You are going to make that assessment strictly predicated on that? I'm asking you? You said Doctor so and so.

THE WITNESS: I didn't say Doctor so and so. I don't know. I don't know, Judge.

THE WITNESS: Okay, on - - This looks like a med student. I don't know how much weight I am putting on it.

THE COURT: You say it seems?

THE WITNESS: It says med student there. It appears these are med student notes. They are diagnosing him as a psychosis, depression.

THE WITNESS: I don't want to be misleading myself though, your Honor. I'm relying not as much on the diagnosis they give, per se. Because I don't know whether the diagnosis is- -

THE COURT: [Interrupting] Here's why I ask you. Let me explain to you. So you understand my thinking. If there was somebody identifiable there, and I understand, that person said yes, I am a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist or forensic psychologist. Or clinical psychiatrist. It is my view that this person has X mental disease or defect. And that was an opinion rendered closer in time to the one in which you engaged, that would have been relevant to me. When you said that you had your opinion in line with these prior opinions, I was looking for that. Because that would have, in my view, been corroborative evidence as it relates to the testimony you are going to offer. There is certainly corroboration there, the evaluation you conducted?

THE WITNESS: But in terms of the way I'm viewing this, I'm less interested in the diagnosis a professional gives, because they may be right or wrong, or they may not know what they are doing. But more of the behavior that they describe. Then I'm available to look at the behavior.

THE COURT: You said it was in line. That's not really the case maybe. I don't know. It remains to be seen. He certainly evidenced symptoms. I understand that."

Defense counsel asked Dr. Frumkin if he diagnosed defendant with a mental disease, to which Dr. Frumkin answered that he did.

"A. It was apparent to me [defendant] had psychotic disorder. And psychotic disorder not otherwise specified is sort of a catchall category. If one set of symptoms don't fit neatly into other categories of psychosis, and though I could give him something like paranoid personality disorder, delusional disorder or something like that, the reason I didn't is because he also had the hallucinations that he reported. So, psychotic disorder not otherwise specified, realizing that with the brain damage he also has - -

THE COURT: [Interrupting] Wait a second. Wait.

Do you have any medical corroboration of brain damage, other than the testing you say points to that? You said brain damage. What is brain damage? You have not talked about that before.

THE WITNESS: Dr. Heilbronner talked about there being damage.

THE COURT: Did he do a CT scan? Was there any evidence of any organic brain injury? Other than the anecdotal information provided by the family?"

Dr. Frumkin testified that his diagnosis was based upon criteria listed in the "DSM IV PR." Defense counsel asked Dr. Frumkin to explain what the "DSM IV" is. Before the witness answered, the court stated, "I know what it is. Next question." The prosecuting attorney did not make any objections during the direct examination of Dr. Frumkin.

The trial court also made numerous interjections during the State's cross-examination of Dr. Frumkin. The following paragraphs show the interjections made by the trial court of note during the cross-examination. First, the prosecuting attorney pursued a line of questioning in regards to defendant's flight from the scene. Dr. Frumkin testified that he believed defendant did not appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions. The following colloquy took place among the prosecutor, Dr. Frumkin, and the trial court:

"A. Well, he said he fled the scene because he was fearful of the other gang members that [the ...

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