People v. Lang, s. 51051

CourtSupreme Court of Illinois
Citation76 Ill.2d 311,29 Ill.Dec. 87,391 N.E.2d 350
Docket Number51148,Nos. 51051,s. 51051
Parties, 29 Ill.Dec. 87 The PEOPLE of the State of Illinois, Appellee, v. Donald LANG, Appellant. Julius LANG, Conservator, Appellant, v. Robert A. DeVITO, Director of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Appellee.
Decision Date24 May 1979

James J. Doherty, Public Defender, and (Nancy M. Joslyn, Kenneth L. Fletcher, and Donald Paull, Asst. Public Defenders, Chicago, of counsel), for appellant.

Mark B. Epstein of Epstein & Kesselman, Chicago, for Conservator, appellant.

William J. Scott, Atty. Gen., and Bernard Carey, State's Atty., Chicago (Alan E. Grischke, William J. Fitzpatrick, Special Asst. Attys. Gen., and Christine A. Bremer, Staff Atty., Paul P. Biebel, Jr., Deputy State's Atty., Henry A. Hauser and Randye A. Kogan, Asst. State's Attys., Chicago, of counsel), for the People.

RYAN, Justice.

For 14 years the State has been concerned with what to do with Donald Lang, an illiterate deaf mute who has virtually no ability to communicate with other people in any recognized language system. Notwithstanding this severe handicap, Lang has twice been charged with murder, and the State insists that he poses an extreme danger to society. He is admittedly unfit to stand trial and has been held to be not in need of mental treatment and not civilly committable to a mental institution. His legal history for the past 14 years illustrates the nature and complexity of the problem.

In 1965 the State charged Lang with the murder of a woman. He was found unfit to stand trial. His lawyer, who had extensive experience in defending deaf persons, realized that Lang faced indefinite civil commitment and requested that he be tried for murder. The lawyer agreed to waive Lang's constitutional right not to be tried. The request was denied, and Lang was civilly committed to the Department of Mental Health. (People v. Lang (1967), 37 Ill.2d 75, 19 Ill.Dec. 231, 62 Ill.App.3d 688.) Two years after the commitment the superintendent of the institution in which Lang was confined wrote a letter to the counsel for the Department stating that Lang was unlikely ever to become fit for trial. Sign language training had been completely ineffective. The superintendent recommended that Lang's lawyer be contacted and that Lang be criminally tried. Lang's lawyer then filed a petition for a writ of Habeas corpus, contending that Lang was being imprisoned for life even though he had never been tried for or convicted of a crime. This court, in People ex rel. Myers v. Briggs (1970), 46 Ill.2d 281, 288, 263 N.E.2d 109, 113, held that Lang, facing indefinite commitment, "should be given an opportunity to obtain a trial to determine whether or not he is guilty as charged or should be released." The court remanded the cause for trial. The State subsequently dismissed charges against Lang because the principal witness had died. Lang was released from confinement in February 1971.

In July 1971, Lang was again arrested and charged with the murder of another woman. This second murder involved circumstances quite similar to those of the other homicide. Once again, Lang's lawyer requested that he be tried. The trial court, following the Myers rationale, proceeded with a trial, taking special precautions in an attempt to compensate for Lang's inability to communicate. A jury convicted Lang, and he was sentenced to 14 to 25 years' imprisonment. The appellate court subsequently reversed Lang's conviction, stating that though the evidence clearly established guilt, no trial procedures could effectively compensate for the handicap of a deaf mute with whom there could be no communication. The appellate court remanded the cause for a fitness hearing. People v. Lang (1975), 26 Ill.App.3d 648, 325 N.E.2d 305.

At a March 1976 fitness hearing, the trial court ruled Lang unfit and remanded him to the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities (Department), pursuant to provisions in the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill.Rev.Stat.1975, ch. 38, pars. 1005-2-1, 1005-2-2), which provide in part:

"Sec. 5-2-1. Fitness for Trial or Sentencing.

(a) For the purposes of this Section a defendant is unfit to stand trial or be sentenced if, because of a mental or physical condition, he is unable:

(1) to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him; or

(2) to assist in his defense.

Sec. 5-2-2. Defendant Found Unfit Commitment and Release.

(a) If the defendant is found unfit to stand trial or be sentenced, the court shall remand the defendant to a hospital, as defined by the Mental Health Code of 1967, and shall order that a hearing be conducted in accordance with the procedures, and within the time periods, specified in such Act. The disposition of defendant pursuant to such hearing, and the admission, detention, care, treatment and discharge of any such defendant found to be in need of mental treatment, shall be determined in accordance with such Act. If the defendant is not ordered hospitalized in such hearing, the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities shall petition the trial court to release the defendant on bail or recognizance, under such conditions as the court finds appropriate, which may include, but need not be limited to requiring the defendant to submit to or to secure treatment for his mental condition.

(b) A defendant hospitalized under this Section shall be returned to the court not more than 90 days after the court's original finding of unfitness, and each 12 months thereafter. At such re-examination the court may proceed, find, and order as in the first instance under paragraph (a) of this Section. If the court finds that defendant continues to be unfit to stand trial or be sentenced but that he no longer requires hospitalization, the defendant shall be released under paragraph (a) of this Section on bail or recognizance. Either the State or the defendant may at any time petition the court for review of the defendant's fitness.

(c) A person found unfit under the provisions of this Article who is thereafter sentenced for the offense charged at the time of such finding, shall be credited with time during which he was confined in a public or private hospital after such a finding of unfitness. If a defendant has been confined in a public or private hospital after a finding of unfitness under Section 5-2-6 for a period equal to the maximum sentence of imprisonment that could be imposed under Article 8 for the offense or offenses charged, the court shall order the charge or charges dismissed on motion of the defendant, his guardian, or the Director of the Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities."

Following that fitness hearing, Lang was placed in the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute, a Department facility, where he again received sign language instruction. Sometime later the Department concluded that Lang was not a "person in need of mental treatment" as that term was defined in section 1-11 of the 1967 Mental Health Code (Ill.Rev.Stat.1975, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-11). This section stated:

"Sec. 1-11. 'Person In Need of Mental Treatment', when used in this Act, means any person afflicted with a mental disorder, not including a person who is mentally retarded, as defined in this Act, if that person, as a result of such mental disorder, is reasonably expected at the time the determination is being made or within a reasonable time thereafter to intentionally or unintentionally physically injure himself or other persons, or is unable to care for himself so as to guard himself from physical injury or to provide for his own physical needs. This term does not include a person whose mental processes have merely been weakened or impaired by reason of advanced years."

A hearing was held and the trial judge ruled in December of 1976 that Lang did not need "mental treatment." Lang was unfit, the court ruled, because of a "combined physical and mental condition." Lang did not have a "clearly diagnosed mental disorder" and was not mentally retarded. Because of these facts, Lang could not be civilly committed under the Code. Instead, the court ordered Lang released on bail (as provided in section 5-2-2(a) of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill.Rev.Stat.1975, ch. 38, par. 1005-2-2(a))), providing that he must continue in a training program and reside in a secure setting. The court also directed the Department to collaborate with Lang's attorneys in developing an appropriate program. Shortly thereafter the Department petitioned for the release of Lang from the Psychiatric Institute, and in March 1977 the court vacated an order requiring the Department to hold Lang. Lang's conservator then filed an application with the Department for Lang's voluntary or informal admission. Lang remained at the Psychiatric Institute receiving therapy until October 1977, at which time the Department received permission to discharge him to Cook County jail. Lang has been incarcerated in the jail since that time and receives no therapy.

Although the trial court allowed the Department to discharge Lang in October 1977, the judge concurrently ordered that a writ of Mandamus issue directing the Department to create and implement an adequate and humane care and treatment program. The trial court had been unable to find an alternative non-Department program for Lang. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the Mandamus order but also affirmed an order denying a separate petition for Habeas corpus filed on Lang's behalf by the public defender. (62 Ill.App.3d 688, 19 Ill.Dec. 231, 378 N.E.2d 1106.) This case is a consolidation of two appeals from that appellate decision.

Four sets of lawyers advance different solutions to the problem of Donald Lang on this appeal. Lang's conservator, unable to find a training program that will accept Lang because of the pending murder charge, and unable to persuade the Department to treat Lang, cannot obtain his...

To continue reading

Request your trial
31 cases
  • People v. Burnett
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • January 27, 1987
    ...... See also People v. Lang (1979) 76 Ill.2d 311, 29 Ill.Dec. 87, 391 N.E.2d 350, cert. den. sub nom Lang v. Illinois (1979) 444 U.S. 954, 100 S.Ct. 433, 62 L.Ed.2d 326, and ......
  • People v. Foster, 50462
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • June 29, 1979 the time of trial (Cf. generally, People v. Manning (1979), 76 Ill.2d 235, 28 Ill.Dec. 544, 390 N.E.2d 903; People v. Lang, (1979), 76 Ill.2d 311, 29 Ill.Dec. 87, 391 N.E.2d 350)), it is settled law in Illinois that counsel's mere assertion that he has reason to believe that the defendan......
  • People v. Stewart, 56629
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • October 19, 1984
    ...indicate that Senate Bill 133 was introduced because of the bizarre case of [104 Ill.2d 501] Donald Lang (see People v. Lang (1979), 76 Ill.2d 311, 29 Ill.Dec. 87, 391 N.E.2d 350), an illiterate deaf mute accused of two murders. Although Lang was not in need of medical treatment, he had "vi......
  • People v. Young, 60190
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Illinois
    • February 22, 1989
    ...type of disability Page 480 [131 Ill.Dec. 105] which confronted the authorities in dealing with Donald Lang (see People v. Lang (1979), 76 Ill.2d 311, 29 Ill.Dec. 87, 391 N.E.2d 350), an illiterate deaf-mute accused of two murders who, although not in need of mental treatment, had virtually......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT