383 U.S. 107 (1966), 219, Baxstrom v. Herold

Docket Nº:No. 219
Citation:383 U.S. 107, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620
Party Name:Baxstrom v. Herold
Case Date:February 23, 1966
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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383 U.S. 107 (1966)

86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620

Baxstrom

v.

Herold

No. 219

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 23, 1966

Argued December 9, 1965

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK

Syllabus

Petitioner, while a prisoner, was certified as insane by a prison physician and transferred to Dannemora State Hospital, an institution under the jurisdiction of the New York Department of Correction and used for prisoners declared mentally ill while serving sentence. Dannemora's director filed a petition in the Surrogate's Court stating that petitioner's sentence was expiring and requesting that he be civilly committed under § 384 of the N.Y. Correction Law. At the proceeding, the State submitted medical evidence that petitioner was still mentally ill and in need of hospital care. The Surrogate stated that he had no objection to petitioner's transfer to a civil hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene, but that, under § 384, that decision was up to the latter Department. That Department had determined ex parte that petitioner was not suitable for care in a civil hospital. When petitioner's sentence expired, his custody shifted to the Department of Mental Hygiene, but he has since remained at Dannemora. Writs of habeas corpus in state courts were dismissed, and petitioner's request that he be transferred to a civil hospital was denied as beyond the court's power.

Held: Petitioner was denied equal protection of the laws by the statutory procedure whereby a person may be civilly committed at the expiration of a prison sentence without the jury review available to all others civilly committed in New York, and by his commitment to an institution maintained by the Department of Correction beyond the expiration of his prison term without the judicial determination that he is dangerously mentally ill such as that afforded to all those so committed except those nearing the end of a penal sentence. Pp. 110-115.

Judgment of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court of New York, Third Judicial Department, 21 A.D. 2d 754, reversed and remanded to that court.

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WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case to consider the constitutional validity of the statutory procedure under which petitioner was committed to a mental institution at the expiration of his criminal sentence in a state prison.

Petitioner, Johnnie K. Baxstrom, was convicted of second degree assault in April, 1959, and was sentenced to a term of two and one-half to three years in a New York prison. On June 1, 1961, he was certified as insane by a prison physician. He was then transferred from prison to Dannemora State Hospital, an institution under the jurisdiction and control of the New York Department of Correction and used for the purpose of confining and caring for male prisoners declared mentally ill while serving a criminal sentence. In November, 1961, the director of Dannemora filed a petition in the Surrogate's Court of Clinton County stating that Baxstrom's penal sentence was about to terminate and requesting that he be civilly committed pursuant to § 384 of the New York Correction Law.

On December 6, 1961, a proceeding was held in the Surrogate's chambers. Medical certificates were submitted by the State which stated that, in the opinion of two of its examining physicians, Baxstrom was still mentally ill and in need of hospital and institutional care. Respondent, then assistant director at Dannemora, testified that, in his opinion. Baxstrom was still mentally ill. Baxstrom, appearing alone, was accorded

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a brief opportunity to ask questions.1 Respondent and the Surrogate both stated that they had no objection to his being transferred from Dannemora to a civil hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene. But [86 S.Ct. 762] the Surrogate pointed out that he had no jurisdiction to determine that question -- that under § 384, the decision was entirely up to the Department of Mental Hygiene. The Surrogate then signed a certificate which indicated he was satisfied that Baxstrom "may require mental care and treatment" in an institution for the mentally ill. The Department of Mental Hygiene had already determined ex parte that Baxstrom was not suitable for care in a civil hospital. Thus, on December 18, 1961, the date upon which Baxstrom's penal sentence expired, custody over him shifted from the Department of Correction to the Department of Mental Hygiene, but he was retained at Dannemora, and has remained there to this date.

Thereafter, Baxstrom sought a writ of habeas corpus in a state court. An examination by an independent psychiatrist was ordered, and a hearing was held at which the examining psychiatrist testified that, in his opinion, Baxstrom was still mentally ill. The writ was dismissed. In 1963, Baxstrom applied again for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated and that he was then sane, or, if insane, he should be transferred to a civil mental hospital. Due to his indigence and his incarceration in Dannemora, Baxstrom could not produce psychiatric testimony to disprove the testimony adduced at the prior hearing. The writ was therefore dismissed. Baxstrom's alternative request for

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transfer to a civil mental hospital was again denied as being beyond the power of the court despite a statement by the State's attorney that he wished that Baxstrom would be transferred to a civil mental hospital. On appeal to the Appellate Division, Third Department, the dismissal of the writ was affirmed without opinion. 21 A.D.2d 754, 251 N.Y.S.2d 938. A motion for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied. 14 N.Y.2d 490, 253 N.Y.S.2d 1028, 202 N.E.2d 159. We granted certiorari. 381 U.S. 949.

We hold that petitioner was denied equal protection of the laws by the statutory procedure under which a person may be civilly committed at the expiration of his penal sentence without the jury review available to all other persons civilly committed in New York. Petitioner was further denied equal protection of the laws by his civil commitment to an institution maintained by the Department of Correction beyond the expiration of his prison term without a judicial determination that he is dangerously mentally ill such as that afforded to all so committed except those, like Baxstrom, nearing the expiration of a penal sentence.

Section 384 of the New York Correction Law prescribes the procedure for civil commitment upon the expiration of the prison term of a mentally ill person confined in Dannemora.2 Similar procedures are prescribed for civil

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commitment of all other allegedly mentally ill persons. N.Y.Mental Hygiene Law, McKinney's Consol.Laws, c. 27, §§ 70, 72. All persons civilly committed, however, other than those committed at the expiration of a penal term, are expressly granted the right to de novo review by jury trial of the question of their sanity under § 74 of the Mental Hygiene Law. Under this procedure, any person dissatisfied with an order certifying him as mentally ill may demand full review by a jury of the prior...

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