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People v. Gunderson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

June 20, 2017

SEAN GUNDERSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court Of Cook County. No. 02 CR 28384 The Honorable Earl Hoffenberg, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE NEVILLE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Presiding Justice Hyman and Justice Pierce concurred in the judgment and opinion.



         ¶ 1 In 2005, a court found Sean Gunderson, charged with attempted murder, not guilty by reason of insanity. Gunderson petitioned for discharge from the custody of the Department of Human Services (DHS) in 2015. The trial court denied the petition. On appeal, Gunderson argues that section 5-2-4(g) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Code) (730 ILCS 5/5-2-4(g) (West 2014)) violates his right to due process, because it requires him to prove by clear and convincing evidence that he no longer suffers from a mental illness. We find the statute constitutional. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 In 2002, Gunderson cut the throats of his mother, his father, and his grandmother. Prosecutors charged him with attempted murder and aggravated battery. Following a bench trial, the court found Gunderson not guilty by reason of insanity. He has remained in the custody of DHS since the trial.

         ¶ 4 In April 2015, Gunderson filed a motion for discharge from DHS, or for on-grounds pass privileges. At the hearing on the motion, Gunderson's mother testified that she spoke with and visited Gunderson frequently throughout his confinement, and she believed that he had recovered from his illness. She believed that he did not present a threat of harm to anyone. If DHS released Gunderson, Gunderson could live with his parents.

         ¶ 5 Dr. Vikramjit Gill, who began treating Gunderson in July 2014, recommended the on- grounds pass privileges. According to Dr. Gill, Gunderson no longer showed any symptoms of mental illness. Dr. Gill had not prescribed any medication for Gunderson. Dr. Gill described Gunderson as a high-functioning patient, with schizophrenia in remission, who had progressed well without medication since 2011.

         ¶ 6 Faye Edlund, a social worker who had served on Gunderson's treatment team since February 2013, testified that no one on the treatment team recommended discharge for Gunderson. Edlund never saw Gunderson act aggressively, and she saw no overt signs or symptoms of schizophrenia. She signed onto the recommendation for on-grounds passes, so that the treatment team could assess how well Gunderson could handle increased freedom.

         ¶ 7 Martha Welch, a psychologist who reviewed the treatment team's recommendation, agreed that Gunderson should have on-grounds passes. She interviewed Gunderson and members of the treatment team and concluded that Gunderson presented little risk of violent behavior.

         ¶ 8 Dr. Mathew Markos, who examined Gunderson four times in 2003 and 2004, interviewed Gunderson briefly in April 2015 to determine whether to support the treatment team's recommendation. In Dr. Markos's opinion, schizophrenia is always a lifelong illness that patients can control only with antipsychotic medication. Dr. Markos found that Gunderson showed several signs of continuing schizophrenia. First, Gunderson spoke rapidly during the interview. Dr. Markos asked Gunderson whether Gunderson had a mental illness. Dr. Markos testified that Gunderson answered, "I have disconnections with reality I tend to attribute to spiritual reasons; when I was 17, I wasn't living healthy. There was an unresolved spiritual crisis." Dr. Markos characterized the response as "delusional." Dr. Markos added, "He's not in touch with reality. He lacks insight. He will not take his medication, and that's just not the way to proceed with schizophrenia illness." Dr. Markos could not understand why Dr. Gill decided not to prescribe antipsychotic medication for Gunderson.

         ¶ 9 Dr. Markos did not know of any studies that support his assertions, but he knew of no instance in which a schizophrenic patient recovered without remaining on antipsychotic medication for life. Because Dr. Gill did not prescribe antipsychotic medication for Gunderson, Dr. Markos opposed the request for on-grounds pass privileges.

         ¶ 10 Dr. Toby Watson, who has a degree in clinical psychology, testified about long-term studies of schizophrenia. Dr. Watson said that every controlled study of patients treated for more than one year showed that schizophrenic patients given minimal medication, or no medication at all, had much better recovery rates than patients treated regularly with antipsychotics. Dr. Watson explained that antipsychotic medication blocks dopamine, and thereby produces the immediate effect of reducing hallucinations and delusions. But after extended dopamine deprivation, the brain compensates by finding ways to produce more dopamine. To continue controlling the brain, doctors usually need to increase the dosage of antipsychotics. The antipsychotics have side effects that damage the brain. Dr. Watson testified that "outcome studies have been showing that people who stay on medication can chronically become disabled and mentally ill potentially for life."

         ¶ 11 Dr. Watson said that he found no studies showing that treatment for more than one year with antipsychotics improved results for schizophrenic patients. In response to a question from Gunderson's attorney, Dr. Watson said, "What do you call it if somebody believes something and all the overwhelming evidence says contrary to that? *** I mean, it's delusion." Dr. Watson then related the course of his own beliefs on the issue. All of his professors taught that one must use antipsychotic drugs to treat schizophrenia, and he fully accepted the teaching. His opinion gradually changed in light of the studies he read. The prosecutor, claiming that Dr. Watson's testimony implied that Dr. Markos suffered from delusions about the nature of schizophrenia, asked Dr. Watson whether ...

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