University of Illinois Law Professor Dhammika Dharmapala was the victim of a shocking violent attack this week at a train station when Joshua Scaggs, 23, allegedly stabbed him in the neck after shouting something about this being Scaggs’ country.
Scaggs appears mentally deranged and promptly fired his attorney Baku Patel. He is charged with attempted murder and two counts of aggravated battery.
Dharmapala, 41, teaches law and economics, tax policy, public economy, and political economy. He suffered a six-inch cut to his throat.
President Michael Hogan issued a statement to the faculty and students saying “[a]s some of you may have read in the newspapers, this morning a member of our faculty was severely injured during what appears to have been a senseless act of aggression and alleged hate crime by another not affiliated with the University of Illinois. The University is deeply saddened by this event.”
Scaggs has a prior conviction in 2006 for burglary in Indiana which will likely be used as an aggravator. The threshold issue, however, is his competency to stand trial and then whether he has a viable claim for the insanity defense.
Illinois follows a more advanced rule than many other states that ripped up their insanity defenses after the Reagan assassination. For a prior column on the issue, click here. Illinois follows the A.L.I. standard that the American Law Institute (ALI) designed a new test for its Model Penal Code in 1962. Under this test, “a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.”
There was an interesting ruling on the meaning of this standard in People v. Ahmad, 206 Ill. App. 3d 927 (1990). The court found a violation in the testimony of State’s expert witness, Dr. Mathew Markos.
In his testimony regarding his professional education, Markos stated that he pursued specialization in forensic psychiatry, “also known as psychiatry and the law.” He then stated that as part of his training in forensic psychiatry, he attended lectures in criminal law. The State then elicited testimony from the witness regarding the standards for legal insanity. Markos stated that Illinois used the standards of the American Law Institute (ALI) for the insanity defense. He testified that to establish the insanity defense:
“[T]he evaluator or examiner has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the psychosis or the serious mental illness was directly linked to the commission of the criminal act.”
Prior to this statement, Markos had testified:
“[I]n order to prove the insanity defense with a reasonable degree of certainty — a reasonable degree is approximately 70 percent, roughly — one has to show that there was an existing mental illness, a serious mental illness, in other words, a psychosis.”
At another point in his testimony Markos stated:
“[T]he mere existence of a psychotic illness does not make somebody legally insane. It has to be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that as a result of this mental illness or psychosis he or she could not appreciate the criminality and was not able to conform his or [sic] behavior.”
It is essential that a jury be correctly informed of the burden of proof. ( People v. Lewis (1969), 112 Ill. App. 2d 1, 13, 250 N.E.2d 812.) In order to establish an insanity defense, defendant is only required to show by a preponderance of evidence [***26] that he was insane at the time of the offense. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 38, par. 6 — 2(e).) Therefore, Markos inaccurately stated the law and significantly heightened defendant’s burden of proof by making references to the reasonable doubt standard and by attaching an erroneous numerical value of 70 percent to the standard. Although the jury was properly instructed as to the standard of proof by the trial court at the conclusion of the trial, this did not cure the prejudice to defendant that may have resulted from the expert witness’ improper statements. The likelihood that the jury was misled by these statements was increased by the fact that the witness testified as to his expertise in psychiatry and the law. ( People v. Eckhardt (1984), 124 Ill. App. 3d 1041, 1043, 465 N.E.2d 107.) We also conclude that this issue was reviewable despite defendant’s failure to object under the plain error rule, and that his failure to object may have even increased the magnitude of the error by leaving the jury with the impression that the witness correctly stated the law. ( Eckhardt, 124 Ill. App. 3d at 1043.) Because we find that this error was prejudicial and that the evidence of defendant’s sanity was close, we conclude that it was reversible error. ( People v. Johnson (1981), 102 Ill. App. 3d 122, 129, 429 N.E.2d 905.) We also note that defendant has failed to address whether it was even proper for Dr. Markos to, in effect, instruct the jury on a matter of law. Because we have already determined that Dr. Markos’ testimony caused reversible error, we decline to address this issue.
Much has to be learned about Scaggs. The fact that he could function in society before the attack militates against his use of the defense, but there remains questions as to whether he was capable to conform at that time. It remains a difficult standard to meet — refuting the misunderstanding of the defense that led to so many state laws being gutted after the Reagan shooting.
This is a terrible shock to any community, particularly an academic community like Illinois. We wish Professor Dharmapala a rapid and full recovery.
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