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Case law developments.

Federal Circuit Court Decisions

Eighth Amendment/Conditions of Confinement/Deliberate Indifference: Seventh Circuit reverses grant of summary judgment to contract psychiatrists in state prison system where inmate with serious mental illness alleges that psychiatrists effected his transfer out of a special mental health treatment unit in retaliation for the inmate's grievances against staff, resulting in denial of effective treatment.

Rasho v. Elyea, No. 14-1902, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 3976 (7th Cir. Mar. 7, 2017)

Background: Ashoor Rasho arrived at an Illinois prison in 2003. Rasho had a history of mental illness including auditory hallucinations, severe depression, agitation, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts. In April 2004, he was transferred to the prison's mental health unit after he stopped taking his medication and his symptoms began to escalate. Rasho remained in the mental health unit at the prison until November 2006, when he was transferred to one of the prison's segregation units. Rasho claimed that he was transferred out of the mental health unit in retaliation for complaints he had filed, and not based on a determination that he no longer required treatment. He further alleged that he was denied mental health care for 20 months after the transfer. He filed suit against the staff psychiatrist who recommended the transfer, the warden, medical director, and director of mental health. The district court granted summary judgment for all of the defendants.

Holding: The Seventh Circuit reversed the grant of summary judgment for the individuals who ordered Rasho's transfer out of the mental health unit finding that sufficient evidence was presented for a reasonable jury to conclude that the reason for the transfer was retaliation for the complaints. The court affirmed the grant of summary judgment for the remaining defendants (i.e., the warden, the director of mental health, the medical director) finding they were not personally responsible for the transfer decision.

Notable Points:

[section] 1983 Liability: The court explained that an inmate must show a defendant is personally responsible for a violation of the inmate's constitutional rights to hold that defendant liable under [section] 1983. The defendant need not have participated directly in the constitutional violation, but must have known about the conduct or facilitated, condoned, approved or turned a blind eye to the violation to be subject to [section] 1983 liability.

Qualified Immunity: The Seventh Circuit interpreted the U.S. Supreme Court's denial of qualified immunity to employees of private prisons to extend to employees of private corporations that contract with the state to provide medical care to prisoners.

Injury: The Seventh Circuit rejected the district court's suggestion that Rasho could not establish he was harmed by the transfer because he self-mutilated both before and after the transfer. The Seventh Circuit explained that it was sufficient to show that the transfer increased the risk of self-mutilation to establish that Rasho suffered an injury.

Civilly Committed Dangerous Sex Offenders: Eighth Circuit reverses a district court's finding of substantive due process violations in the statute and treatment program for dangerous sex offenders established by the State of Minnesota.

Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394 (8th Cir. 2017)

Background: The Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP) was created in 1994 pursuant to the Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment Act: Sexually Dangerous Persons and Sexual Psychopathic Personalities (MCTA). Since its inception in 1994, approximately 714 individuals have been accepted into the MSOP, but no individual has been fully discharged from the program and only three have been provisionally discharged. In January 2012, multiple individuals in the MSOP were granted class certification in a constitutional challenge to the MCTA. Plaintiffs argued that the statute is unconstitutional because the statutory standards for discharge are more stringent than for initial commitment. Specifically, the statute requires that the state demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that an individual is sexually dangerous or has a sexually psychopathic personality and the individual is highly likely to reoffend. However, discharge requires a showing that the individual is no longer dangerous. The plaintiffs also argued that the statute is unconstitutional because no individual has ever been discharged from the program and there is no automatic, independent review process to assess an individual's need for continued commitment. The district court applying strict scrutiny held that the MCTA was a violation of the plaintiff's substantive due process rights.

Holding: The Eighth Circuit reversed and held that the proper standard of scrutiny was rational basis review. Applying that standard, the Eighth Circuit found no substantive due process violation.

Notable Point:

Fundamental Liberty Interest: The Eighth Circuit explained that although civil commitment is a significant deprivation of liberty, the Supreme Court has never held that individuals "who pose a significant danger to themselves or others possess a fundamental liberty interest in freedom from physical restraint." The Due Process Clause requires that the state demonstrate a reasonable relation between the nature and duration of the civil commitment and the purpose of the individual's commitment.

State Court Decisions

Criminal Sentencing; Mitigating Factors Due to Mental Illness: While finding no error in the sentencing decision of the trial court, the Indiana Supreme Court, in a per curiam decision, reduces the sentence of an offender with a history of mental illness in recognition of the illness's impact on the offender's behavior.

Wampler v. State, 67 N.E.3d 633 (Ind. 2017)

Background: Wampler had a history of mental health problems and hospitalizations dating back to 1981. In 2014, he became obsessed with his former elementary school classmate. Wampler began making unusual attempts to interact with the classmate, which included leaving notes and sitting outside his house. Wampler broke into the classmate's house one evening, watched him sleep, drank a beer, and left a love note. The incident was reported to police, and Wampler was charged with felony burglary. He was initially found incompetent to stand trial, but was found competent after receiving treatment. He was found guilty of two counts of felony burglary and sentenced to eighteen years in prison enhanced by fifteen years due to a finding that he was a habitual offender. The court of appeals affirmed the sentence, and the Indiana Supreme Court granted review.

Holding: The Indiana Supreme Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing an aggregate sentence of thirty-three years, but reduced the sentence to an aggregate of sixteen years based on a determination that the original sentence was "inappropriate in light of the nature of the offense and the character of the offender."

Notable Points:

Indiana Constitution: The Indiana Constitution authorizes independent appellate review of trial court sentencing decisions even when there is no abuse of discretion.

Due Process and Equal Protection: Massachusetts Supreme Court interprets state statutory requirements for when criminal charges must be dismissed against a defendant who is incompetent to stand trial, and upholds the statutes against claims of Due Process and Equal Protection violations.

Commonwealth v. Calvaire, 476 Mass. 242, 66 N.E.3d 1028 (2017)

Background: In 2012, Calvaire was charged with assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon on suspicion of stabbing a woman with a pocket knife at a metro station in Boston. Calvaire was committed to a state hospital and only intermittently found competent to stand trial. The state attempted to proceed to trial on a number of occasions, but each time the trial was either continued or Calvaire was found incompetent. Calvaire filed three motions to dismiss the charges pursuant to a statute permitting the dismissal of charges for defendants found incompetent to stand trial after one-half the maximum sentence for the most serious charged offense. The statute prevents charges pending indefinitely for incompetent individuals. A judge denied Calvaire's motions and he appealed.

Holding: The Massachusetts Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the motions finding no Equal Protection violation because competent defendants and incompetent defendants are not similarly situated. Applying strict scrutiny, the court found no violation of substantive due process, finding the state's interest in protecting incompetent defendants from indefinitely pending charges and protecting the public from potentially dangerous offenders are compelling state interests.

Notable Points:

Dismissal in the Interest of Justice: The court left open the possibility of the charges being dismissed by a judge in the interest of justice as allowed by the statute.

Involuntary Commitment and Loss of Right to Possess Firearms: Pennsylvania Supreme Court interprets Pennsylvania statute governing challenges to loss of right to possess firearms following involuntary civil commitment for mental health treatment, holding that when reviewing a physician's decision to involuntarily commit an individual, a court must find that the physician's decision was supported by a preponderance of the evidence available to the physician when the decision was made.

In re Vencil Appeal of Pa. State Police, 152 A.3d 235 (Pa. 2017)

Background: In 2003, Vencil went to a hospital emergency room complaining of burning eyes, swollen nostrils, and pulmonary problems. She told hospital staff that she became sensitive to chemicals after being exposed to turtle wax in 2002. She explained that as a result of this sensitivity, she was forced to move out of her home and stay in hotels to avoid chemical smells. She also explained to a crisis intervention worker at the hospital that she had suicidal ideations as a result of her condition. Vencil initially agreed to voluntary commitment, but fled the hospital prior to signing the paperwork. Police located Vencil and brought her back to the hospital where a physician determined that she was severely mentally disabled and required involuntary commitment for treatment. In 2012, Vencil applied to have her record of involuntary commitment expunged pursuant to a Pennsylvania statute that prohibits an individual who was involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment from possessing a firearm. The statute allows a person who was involuntarily committed to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support the commitment. If a court finds there was insufficient evidence, the record of the civil commitment will be expunged and the prohibition on possession of firearms will be lifted. On appeal, the superior court applied a clear and convincing evidence standard to the physician's involuntary commitment decision. The state appealed.

Holding: The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the finding of the superior court and held that a court is required to give deference to a physician's involuntary commitment decision and that it must only be supported by a preponderance of the evidence available to the physician at the time the decision was made.

Sexually Violent Predators and Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: The South Carolina Supreme Court rules that a person has a due process right to effective assistance of counsel during civil commitment proceedings for sexually violent predators, but that a claim contesting such commitment due to ineffective assistance of counsel must be raised in a habeas corpus petition as South Carolina statutory law does not provide for making such a claim on direct appeal.

In re Chapman, No. 27705, 2017 S.C. LEXIS 29 (Feb. 15, 2017)

Background: In 2013, the state filed a petition to civilly commit Chapman as a sexually violent predator prior to his release from prison. Chapman was serving a 5-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to one count of lewd act on a minor involving a 10-year-old female. Chapman also had four prior convictions for sexual assault. At the commitment hearing an expert for the state testified that Chapman suffered from biastophilia, anti-social personality disorder, substance abuse disorder, and was likely to reoffend. Chapman presented testimony from several personal acquaintances as to his good character and an expert for the defense disagreed with the state's expert regarding Chapman's diagnoses of biastophilia and anti-social personality disorder. During the two-day trial, Chapman's counsel made no motions and objected only once. The jury found that Chapman met the statutory definition of a sexually violent predator, and the court ordered Chapman's civil commitment.

Holding: The Supreme Court of South Carolina held that defendants have a due process right to the effective assistance of counsel when facing civil commitment as a sexually violent predator. However, the issue must be raised in a habeas corpus petition, rather than on direct appeal.

Notable Points:

Strickland Standard: The court held that the appropriate standard for granting relief for ineffective assistance of counsel in this context is the two-prong Strickland standard rather than the ordinary standard in habeas proceedings. The Strickland standard requires an applicant to prove deficient performance of counsel and resulting prejudice.

Involuntary Commitment and Right to Waive Counsel: Supreme Court of Vermont holds that the Fourteenth Amendment precludes a patient from waiving counsel and proceeding pro se in involuntary commitment and involuntary medication proceedings.

In re G.G., 2017 VT 10

Background: G.G. had been hospitalized in the Vermont Psychiatric care hospital since 2015. G.G. had been subject to a series of renewed orders for involuntary medication, and in 2016 the state filed an application to involuntarily medicate G.G. with 20 milligrams of Prolixin by injection every two weeks. Prior to the hearing on the state's application, G.G. filed a motion to dismiss his attorney and proceed pro se. The court found that G.G.'s waiver of counsel was not "knowing, intelligent, and voluntary," and denied the motion to dismiss his attorney and proceed pro se. The court did allow G.G. to cross examine witnesses after his attorney concluded her cross examinations. G.G. was also allowed to make closing arguments. The court found that G.G. was a patient in need of further treatment and that there was no less restrictive alternative than involuntary commitment and treatment. The court ordered G.G.'s continued hospitalization and treatment for one year. G.G. appealed.

Holding: The Supreme Court of Vermont held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment precludes the waiver of counsel in civil commitment proceedings.

Notable Points:

Balancing: The Supreme Court of Vermont explained that a trial court should balance a defendant's dignity and autonomy interests with the state's interest in ensuring a fair and accurate proceeding when considering the level of the defendant's participation at trial.
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Title Annotation:in mental health law
Publication:Developments in Mental Health Law
Date:Mar 22, 2017
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