Determining a Defendant’s Fitness to Stand Trial

Illinois law presumes that a criminal defendant facing charges for assault or another crime is fit to be tried and receive a sentence. However, the law also recognizes that circumstances might render a defendant unable to comprehend the proceedings against him or to help with his own case. If the defendant has a mental or physical condition that raises a bona fide doubt regarding his fitness to stand trial, then the court will hold a hearing to determine the issue.

The fitness of the defendant can be highlighted by the defense, prosecution or the court any time before a plea is made or prior to or throughout the course of a trial. The defendant may request that a qualified professional examine his fitness. Once the defendant’s fitness has been brought into question, the prosecution is required to show (by a preponderance of the evidence) that the defendant is fit. However, the court may also conduct its own inquiry, including the calling of witnesses.

The defense or prosecution can demand that the defendant’s fitness be determined by a jury. The court may also order a jury trial sua sponte (on its own motion). However, if the issue is raised after the trial has begun or before sentencing, it is too late for a jury trial. In that case the court will determine the defendant’s fitness.

The Fitness Examination

Here are a few things to understand about a fitness examination:

  • If the fitness issue involves a mental condition, the court will order a licensed physician, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to examine the defendant;
  • If the fitness issue involves a physical condition, the court will appoint a physician (or other experts as needed) to examine the defendant;
  • If the defendant is in custody, the court will direct the location of the examination;
  • If the defendant is not in custody, the person conducting the examination will direct the location; and
  • The need for a fitness examination will not affect a defendant’s release on bail or pending application for bail.

The person who conducts the fitness examination must submit a written report within 30 days of the court order. That report must include:

  • An explanation regarding how the expert reached a diagnosis, including the facts upon which that diagnosis was based; and
  • A description of the defendant’s mental or physical condition, including whether it impairs his ability to understand the proceedings against him and/or to assist in his own defense.

If the expert determines that the defendant has a disability that renders him unfit to stand trial, the report must also indicate whether the defendant, under proper treatment, could attain fitness within one year. The expert must provide an explanation if he cannot form an opinion about the likelihood of the defendant attaining fitness.

If criminal charges are brought against you, it is imperative that you understand what is happening. If you (or a loved one) has a mental or physical condition that renders you (or him) unfit to stand trial, then you need a Joliet criminal defense attorney to protect your (his) rights. Contact us today for a free consultation. We can assist those in Frankfort, Joliet and the surrounding area.

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26 East Clinton Street Joliet, IL 60432