People v. Johnson

Decision Date30 March 2018
Docket NumberNo. 1–14–0725,1–14–0725
Citation105 N.E.3d 860,2018 IL App (1st) 140725
Parties The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Robin JOHNSON, Defendant–Appellant.
CourtUnited States Appellate Court of Illinois

Michael J. Pelletier, Patricia Mysza, and Christopher Kopacz, of State Appellate Defender’s Office, of Chicago, for appellant.

Kimberly M. Foxx, State’s Attorney, of Chicago (Alan J. Spellberg, Christine Cook, and Sheilah O’Grady-Krajniak, Assistant State’s Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

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

¶ 1 Defendant, Robin Johnson, was convicted in a jury trial of the first degree murder of Chicago Police Officer Richard Francis, disarming Officer Francis, and aggravated discharge of a firearm toward another Chicago police officer, for which she received sentences of, respectively, mandatory natural life, four years' imprisonment, and 15 years' imprisonment. In this appeal, defendant raises several challenges to the judgment. Defendant alleges that the trial court violated her constitutional right to present a defense when it barred proposed expert and lay testimony that she contends establishes that she was in a postictal, or post-seizure, state at the time of the offense. Defendant also argues that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury on involuntary manslaughter and in not allowing defense counsel to impeach a defense witness about the State having provided the witness with housing prior to her testifying at trial. Finally, defendant contends that her mandatory natural life sentence is unconstitutional.1

¶ 2 The record shows that defendant was charged by indictment with four counts of first degree murder of a peace officer, eight counts of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated discharge of a firearm, and disarming a peace officer, arising from a July 2, 2008, incident that occurred after Officer Francis was called to investigate a disturbance on a Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bus. Prior to trial, defendant submitted an answer to the State's motion for pretrial discovery that suggested that defendant would "rely on the State's inability to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt." Defendant also indicated that she was contemplating asserting the affirmative defense of insanity.

¶ 3 On October 16, 2013, the day before jury selection was set to commence, defendant filed a motion to allow her "to present the defenses and supporting evidence that (1) she did not act intentionally or knowingly as required under the charged statutes and (2) she did not perform a voluntary act as required by the criminal code." The defense indicated that it "had investigated the possibility of presenting an insanity defense" and believed that the insanity defense would be "a weak and ineffective defense." However, counsel believed that defendant had "a strong defense" based on her "not possess[ing] the mental state necessary to commit first degree murder" and "not perform[ing] a voluntary act." Counsel further stated an intent to call Dr. Stephan Schuele to testify that defendant suffers from epileptic seizures and that she was "in a postictal or post-seizure state at the time that" the officer was shot. Dr. Schuele would further testify that defendant "was not capable of forming the necessary mental state to commit first degree murder" and that her medical condition "created a confused state such that [defendant] was not performing voluntary acts." Defendant also claimed that her condition, which resulted from "a seizure and postictal state, could lead a jury to conclude that she acted recklessly and therefore committed the offense of involuntary manslaughter rather than first degree murder."

¶ 4 On October 16, 2013, the State filed a motion in limine to exclude defendant's proposed expert testimony in the absence of an insanity defense. The State argued that where defendant was not presenting an insanity defense, the proposed testimony was irrelevant and amounted to "an improper attempt to resurrect the now-defunct defense of diminished capacity." The State further asserted that "the proposed testimony on the issue of epilepsy, would serve only to confuse the jury and to invade the province of the jury."

¶ 5 On October 17, 2013, the court held a pretrial hearing for the court to hear Dr. Schuele's proposed testimony and consider its admissibility at trial. Dr. Schuele testified that he was a neurophysiologist and epileptologist at Northwestern University and Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation (Foundation). Dr. Schuele further testified that he was "the section head for the Epilepsy Section" at the Foundation, and the Medical Director of the Neurological Testing Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. In 2010, Dr. Schuele was asked to evaluate defendant. In evaluating her, Dr. Schuele interviewed defendant and her family members and relied on a neuropsychological report prepared by Dr. Robert Hanlon, the fire department incident report, the police case report, the indictment, the video surveillance footage of the incident, and defendant's prior hospitalization records.

¶ 6 Dr. Schuele explained that epilepsy

is "a tendency of the brain to have unprovoked, recurrent seizures, epileptic seizures" and that it was "basically defined as having had at least two unprovoked epileptic seizures." Dr. Schuele stated that a person could have epileptic seizures without having epilepsy

when the seizures were "provoked." He stated that provoking factors could include a "variety of medical conditions," including renal failure, liver failure, dehydration after, for example, running a marathon or substance abuse. Dr. Schuele testified that he did not diagnose defendant with epilepsy because he was not able to determine whether her seizures were provoked or unprovoked. He was "confident to say that she has epileptic seizures," but noted that defendant had certain risk factors for provoked seizures. Specifically, Dr. Schuele stated that if defendant had provoked seizures, they would have been caused by her chronic drug use, alcohol use, or alcohol withdrawal. Dr. Schuele also stated that he looked at defendant's EEG records, which were normal, but explained that about 20% of people with epilepsy will have normal EEGs.

¶ 7 Dr. Schuele further explained that a "postictal period" referred to "the fact that directly following a seizure most patients are confused for a certain period of time." This period normally lasts between 10 and 30 minutes; however, some patients with frequent seizures, or a cluster of seizures, "go into a prolonged confusional, delusional state." Dr. Schuele stated that this was "basically a prolongation of the acute postictal state," in which people are tired, confused, disoriented, and, in some cases, agitated or violent. Dr. Schuele described this as "postictal psychosis

," where a person has "one or two or several days" where he or she exhibits "paranoid and delusional and bizarre behavior." Dr. Schuele testified that a person can "walk and * * * function to a certain degree, but they * * * have psychotic symptoms where they [have] irrational or erratic or bizarre behavior."

¶ 8 Dr. Schuele noted that defendant was hospitalized on June 29, 2008, three days before the incident, and that there was a handwritten note in the record that she had been "postictal" the day before and was "[n]ow feeling better." Dr. Schuele testified that, from defendant's history and the descriptions he had been given, he believed that it was "reasonable to assume that [defendant] was in a postictal state" on July 2, 2008, and that, at the time of the incident, defendant "showed signs of erratic behavior consistent with an acute confusional state."

¶ 9 The doctor also explained that the symptoms of a postictal period could "wax and wane" and that "people who are delirious or postictal have moments where they make clear statements and other moments where they make very incoherent or out of context statements." He also stated that he could not "exclude that during these three days she would have the intention to go to the bathroom or she had the intention to eat something or do something intentional" but stated that the surveillance video of the incident gave him "information of how erratic she was at the moment of the incident." Dr. Schuele specifically characterized the video as showing that when defendant was on the bus, she engaged in a motion mimicking putting money in the fare box, when she did not actually do so, and that she was walking behind one of the bus passengers with her arms bent. Dr. Schuele also relied on reports that the bus passenger asked defendant why she was following her, and defendant responded, "[Y]ou made me this way."

¶ 10 Dr. Schuele further explained that a person

"in a delirious state has actions which are volitional and actions which are erratic. * * * [W]e are not talking about a patient who is comatose and unresponsive and where things are black and white. We're talking about a situation where obviously every step a person does is a volitional act because, otherwise, we wouldn't walk. * * * So, yes, obviously, she does many volitional things. She does—it is my opinion as well that she does many erratic things."

¶ 11 When asked whether Dr. Schuele could tell which parts of the sequence of events were volitional and which were erratic, the doctor responded:

"I think you can probably judge erratic behavior as good [sic] as I can. You know, it's erratic to mimic putting money in the fare thing. * * * [I]t is erratic to walk behind someone with your arms bent and walking back and forth. * * * It is erratic to answer questions of why do you follow me with, like, you made me this way. That is paranoid and delusional."

Dr. Schuele clarified, however, that when he used the words "paranoid and delusional," he was describing the postictal state, not making a psychiatric diagnosis, and...

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