206 F.2d 415 (D.C. Cir. 1953), 11339, Miller v. Overholser

Docket Nº:11339.
Citation:206 F.2d 415
Case Date:March 05, 1953
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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206 F.2d 415 (D.C. Cir. 1953)




No. 11339.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

March 5, 1953

Argued Nov. 25, 1952.

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Mr. Charles Effinger Smoot, Washington, D.C., (appointed by the District Court) for appellant.

Mr. William J. Peck, Asst. U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., with whom Mr. Charles M. Irelan, U.S. Atty., and Messrs. Joseph M. Howard, Robert M. Scott and Emory W. Reisinger, II, Asst. U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before WILBUR K. MILLER, PRETTYMAN and FAHY, Circuit Judges.

PRETTYMAN, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia discharging a writ of habeas corpus. The case involves the validity and meaning of the so-called Sexual Psychopath Act, approved June 9, 1948. 1 It is a case of first impression in this court.

The statute it too long to quote in full text. An outline of it, however, is necessary to consideration of our present problems. The first two sections of the act are criminal statutes. The first makes the performance of indecent acts with children a felony, and the second relates to sodomy. The next section contains definitions, among them the following:

'(1) The terms 'sexual psychopath' means a person, not insane, who by a course of repeated misconduct in sexual matters has evidenced such lack of power to control his sexual impulses as to be dangerous to other persons because he is likely to attack or otherwise inflict injury, loss, pain, or other evil on the objects of his desire.' 2

The act provides for the initiation of proceedings against any person other than the defendant in a criminal proceeding and then provides that, whenever it shall appear to the United States Attorney that a defendant in any criminal proceeding is a sexual psychopath, he may file with the clerk of the court a statement setting forth the facts tending to show that condition. The act provides that a 'patient' shall have the right to the assistance of counsel at every stage of the proceeding. It provides that when a statement has been filed, as above described, the court shall appoint two qualified psychiatrists to make a personal examination of the patient and thereafter to file written reports, including conclusions as to whether the patient is a sexual psychopath. The patient is required by the act to answer questions asked by the psychiatrists, under penalty of contempt of court. Counsel have the right to inspect the reports. No such report and no evidence resulting from the examination are admissible against the patient in any proceeding except one under the act to determine whether he is a sexual psychopath.

If one or both of the psychiatrists conclude that the patient is not a sexual psychopath, he is dismissed. Otherwise the court must conduct a hearing. 'Upon the evidence introduced at a hearing held for

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that purpose, the court shall determine whether or not the patient is a sexual psychopath.' 3 The patient or the officer filing the statement may demand a jury trial. An appeal lies from the judgment.

If the patient is adjudged a sexual psychopath, he must be committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital and confined until released in accordance with the act. He is released when the Superintendent of the Hospital finds that he has sufficiently recovered so as not to be dangerous. If the patient is then under criminal charge he is delivered to the court. Any statement filed pursuant to this act in a criminal case stays prosecution of that case until the proceedings under the provisions of the act have been concluded of the patient is discharged.

Appellant in the case at bar was indicted in two counts, one charging indecent liberties with a child and the other sodomy with the same child. The court appointed counsel to represent him, and he has been represented by counsel (not the same throughout) since that date. Shortly after the indictment was returned, the United States Attorney filed a statement in the District Court setting forth facts which, he alleged, made it appear that the defendant was a sexual psychopath. Thereafter the procedure outlined in the statute was followed. Two psychiatrists appointed by the court filed separate reports, and each stated his opinion that the defendant was a sexual psychopath. A hearing was held, and thereafter the court directed that the defendant be confined in Saint Elizabeths Hospital until the Superintendent should find that he had sufficiently recovered so as not to be dangerous to other persons.

Thereafter the defendant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. An answer to the petition was filed by the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital. A hearing was had, some evidence was stipulated, other evidence was presented, and the court made findings of fact and reached conclusions of law. It ordered that the writ be discharged and the patient remanded to the custody of the Superintendent. This appeal followed.

The constitutionality of legislation of this sort was established by the Supreme Court in State of Minnesota ex rel. Pearson v. Probate Court. 4 Counsel for the appellant urges that there are differences between the local statute and the Minnesota statute there involved. But in the Minnesota case the statute was attacked as being too vague and indefinite, and the Supreme Court adopted a construction of the statute made by the Minnesota court. The statute thus construed was held valid. The draftsmen of our local act wrote into it not the terms of the Minnesota statute but the interpretation of it which the Supreme Court had approved. 5

Counsel for appellant attacks the statute and the proceedings at many points. Some of them, grouped, are met by general principles. He makes several attacks from the viewpoint that the proceeding under the statute to determine whether a defendant in a pending criminal action is a sexual psychopath is a criminal proceedings. These contentions relate to presence of counsel at certain stages, the need for an indictment, compulsory cooperation with the psychiatrists, double jeopardy, and self-incrimination in this proceeding. We agree with those courts, including our own District Court in Malone v. Overholser, 6 which have held proceedings under similar statutes and under this statute to be civil proceedings. 7 They constitute an extension of

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established law which relates to the commitment to hospitals of persons who by reason of inability to control impulses are dangerous to other persons. Counsel attacks procedural aspects of the statute. But the outline we have given of the statute shows that procedural steps for the protection of an alleged sexual psychopath- the rights to counsel, to hearing, to jury trial, to appeal- are meticulously provided.

Appellant attacks that provision of the statute which requires the stay of criminal proceedings. He says that it violates the command of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. This section of the act 8 specifically requires that, when a statement under the act is filed in a criminal proceeding, that proceeding must be stayed, and if the patient is found to be a sexual psychopath the stay continues until he is discharged from the Hospital, which is in the indefinite future. The Sixth Amendment says: 'In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial * * * .' But we do not reach the point because of procedural difficulties. In the first place appellant is not being confined by reason of the delay in his trial on the indictment. He is confined because he has been found to be a sexual psychopath. Therefore this habeas corpus proceeding, which tests only the legality of his present confinement, does not test the legality of the delay in his trial. In the second place, it is established by many cases that a prerequisite to relief from delay in trial is a demand for a trial addressed by the accused to the court in which he is accused. 9 No demand for trial has been made by appellant, so far as the record shows, in the criminal proceeding pending in the District Court. The proper way to try the validity of the statutory stay of a pending criminal proceeding is to move in the criminal court for an immediate trial. Then, if the motion be denied because of the statutory stay, an appeal can be taken from the denial; or a suit in the nature of mandamus could be brought to obtain a trial of the charge in the indictment.

At the hearing upon the petition for habeas corpus appellant introduced evidence to show, and his counsel contends here, that he has been and is confined in Ward 6 of Howard Hall at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, which Hall is the place of confinement for the criminal insane, and that he is confined there with many wild and violent insane persons. Petitioner testified without contradiction that he had been assaulted by mentally deranged persons in shackles. He described noisome, unnatural and violent acts by inmates in this Hall. Counsel for appellant asserts that this confinement is in violation of the prohibition of the Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment. 10 We do not reach the constitutional question, because we think this confinement as described by petitioner violates both the terms and the spirit of the statute. In the first place, by the statutory definition, if this man is a sexual psychopath he is not insane. If he is insane he is not subject to any part of the procedure under this statute. In the second place, by the certificates of both the...

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