People v. Lee, 2017 IL App (1st) 151652 (October). Episode 428 (Duration 13:52)
Schizophrenic and suicidal patient loses control with a nurse and strikes her, but was it accidental?
Following a bench trial in Cook County, defendant Jimmy Lee was convicted of aggravated battery of a nurse (720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(d)(11)) and sentenced to 27 months’ imprisonment.
Defendant was arrested because of a physical altercation with Emily Reich, a nurse who was treating defendant for an intentional drug overdose at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center (Illinois Masonic).
When admitted Defendant was yelling abusively.
Emergency personnel informed Reich that defendant had suicidal thoughts and had intentionally overdosed on prescription medication. Reich was familiar with defendant and had treated him at the hospital on approximately five previous occasions. When Reich entered defendant’s hospital room, she was wearing her scrubs with embroidering that indicated she was a nurse.
She noticed that he had changed into a hospital gown but was still wearing a chain necklace with a four-by-three-inch metal cross at the bottom of it. Reich testified that hospital protocol dictates that, once it is known that a patient has had suicidal thoughts, all personal items are removed because they could be used as potential weapons against the patient or the staff.
Remove The Chain
Reich told defendant that “[w]e’re going to need to remove” the necklace.
Defendant refused and called her vulgar names. He also threatened to kill her. Defendant told Reich the necklace was a gift and that she could not have it.
Reich explained to defendant that the necklace needed to be removed for safety purposes and reached toward defendant to remove it.
Another nurse in the room, standing on the opposite side of defendant, attempted to calm him down while Reich removed the necklace. As Reich was leaning over defendant trying to unclasp the necklace, he pulled away, cross clutched in his hand, and the chain broke.
At this time, Reich noticed defendant’s “elbow come down and his hand go back up,” which made her “flinch.” She then felt something very sharp on her forehead and realized that defendant had hit her with the cross he was holding.
After doing so, defendant threw the cross onto the floor.
Reich walked over to where defendant had thrown the cross and bent down to retrieve it. As Reich rose, she found defendant standing over her and threatening to kill her.
Reich exited the room when additional staff entered the room. After Reich left the room, she noticed a red mark about three-quarters of an inch long right along her hairline. Reich stated that she felt a stinging pain throughout the night.
Caught On Video
The State introduced into evidence a surveillance video depicting Reich’s interaction with defendant. The video was played in open court. Reich testified that the video shows her entering defendant’s room and telling him that his necklace needed to be removed. The video also shows a brief struggle between Reich and defendant. According to Reich, the video depicts her leaning over defendant to unclasp the necklace, defendant’s hand reaching up to prevent her from removing the necklace, and defendant’s hand briefly “flutter[ing],” which was when Reich said defendant hit her with the cross.
Defendant is also depicted leaving his bed to stand over Reich as she is bent down in the corner of the hospital room picking up the necklace.
Defendant is a diagnosed schizophrenic.
Defendant testified that he had learned that both his partner and his son were in a car accident and that his son had not survived the accident.
Defendant attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on prescription medication.
He stated that he respects the staff at Illinois Masonic and credits them with saving his life “so many times.” During his testimony, defendant referred to several of the hospital’s nursing staff and doctors by their first names. He said as Reich reached around his neck, defendant grabbed her hand. Reich then pulled on the necklace, which broke the clasp of the chain holding the cross, causing it to fall and slide across the floor.
Defendant stated that the next thing he remembers is Reich leaving the room and later coming back with the cross in a bag, returning it to him.
Defendant denied ever striking Reich.
He could not recall leaving his bed and approaching Reich.
Convicted By Trial Court
Based on this evidence, the trial court found defendant guilty of aggravated battery of a nurse.
To establish that defendant committed battery against Reich, the State had to prove that defendant knowingly, without legal justification, by any means
(1) caused bodily harm to her or
(2) made physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with her.
720 ILCS 5/12-3(a) (West 2014).
A person acts “knowingly” when he or she is
“consciously aware that that result is practically certain to be caused by his conduct.”
720 ILCS 5/4-5(b) (West 2014).
Our question on review, then, is whether, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the State, there was sufficient evidence to prove that defendant intended to cause bodily harm to Reich or to make physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with her.
Here, the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to the State, does not show that defendant intended to hit Reich, and thus, he did not commit aggravated battery of a nurse.
The circumstantial evidence in this case and defendant’s conduct on the evening in question do not support the inference that defendant intended to strike Reich. The record shows that defendant, a diagnosed schizophrenic, had been a patient at Illinois Masonic since 2006.
On the evening in question, defendant was in distress. This caused defendant to attempt suicide by overdosing on prescription medication, which ultimately led to him being treated at Illinois Masonic that evening. Not surprisingly, when defendant was admitted to the emergency room, he was behaving turbulently and yelling indiscriminately.
When Reich attempted to remove the cross, he refused and explained that it had been a gift from his partner. Reich nevertheless attempted to remove the necklace, and he inadvertently struck her with it. He testified that he could not recall certain parts of his encounter with Reich. Again, this is not surprising given that defendant had attempted to commit suicide by ingesting prescription medication.
When all of this evidence is considered as a whole, it does not show that defendant had the requisite intent to cause bodily harm to Reich or to make physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with her.
Let’s Blame The Victim
Reich, according to all of the testimony, is the one who initiated the struggle with defendant, a diagnosed schizophrenic whose mental health history she was familiar with, by forcibly removing his necklace over his clear objection.
As a patient, defendant had a commonlaw right to refuse medical treatment.
At some point during that brief altercation, the cross came into contact with Reich. It was the State’s burden to prove, as an essential element, that defendant’s conduct was knowing or intentional and not accidental. Defendant tried to explain to Reich that the necklace was a gift with sentimental value.
When she persisted in trying to remove it, he reached his hand up to prevent her from taking it.
But defendant does not dispute that the cross made contract with Reich; rather, he contends he never intended that outcome.
Nothing in the State’s evidence suggests otherwise.
It was the State’s burden to prove that he was “consciously aware” of what he was doing and the results of his actions. Given the defendant’s mental state at the time, we find that the State’s evidence establishing defendant’s intent was so unsatisfactory as to create reasonable doubt of his guilt.
Accordingly, the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.
Concurring Opinion Takes The Cake
They said what occurred was not only preventable but predictable considering that the nurses were dealing with a mentally ill patient.
I would contend, however, that this prosecution should not have been brought and that similar cases might be avoided by more critical consideration of a person’s mental condition and intent before charges are filed.
Individuals with psychiatric or mental health conditions are regularly mistreated and undertreated in the criminal justice system.
Jamie Fellner, A Corrections Quandary: Mental Illness and Prison Rules, 41 Harv. Civ. Rts.-Civ. Liberties L. Rev. 391 (2006) (describing the sources and effects of this tension between prisons and mental illness). Indeed, due to a number of factors, including deinstitutionalization and the inadequacy of community-based psychiatric services, people with mental illnesses are arrested for minor offenses that would formerly have been seen as requiring medical attention but are now seen as behaviors that require punishment through the criminal system.
The nation’s jails and prisons have become, de facto, the nation’s largest psychiatric hospitals.
But prosecutors must continue to look more deeply and sensibly at cases involving the mentally ill to determine whether charges should be brought.
Lee, who was distraught and suicidal, voluntarily sought help at a hospital.
Despite having Lee’s best interests in mind, Reich, by physically trying to remove Lee’s necklace against his wishes, instigated as well as exacerbated the confrontation. To be sure, of paramount importance is the safety of medical personnel who work with patients exhibiting erratic and dangerous behavior. But rarely should unwanted physical contact between mentally ill patients and hospital staff amount to conduct worthy of a criminal charge.
By carefully considering the intent of the patient before bringing charges, prosecutors may avoid unnecessary prosecutions and curtail the incarceration of those with mental illnesses.