395 F.2d 642 (D.C. Cir. 1968), 21032, Bolton v. Harris

Docket Nº:21032.
Citation:395 F.2d 642
Party Name:Gerald C. BOLTON, Appellant, v. David W. HARRIS, Acting Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Appellee.
Case Date:February 16, 1968
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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395 F.2d 642 (D.C. Cir. 1968)

Gerald C. BOLTON, Appellant,


David W. HARRIS, Acting Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Appellee.

No. 21032.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

February 16, 1968

Argued Nov. 29, 1967.

As Amended May 6, 1968,

Petition for Rehearing En Banc Denied July 12, 1968.

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William H. Dempsey, Jr., Washington, D.C., (appointed by this court) for appellant.

Thomas Lumbard, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom David G. Bress, U.S. Atty., Frank Q. Nebeker and Judith Ann Wilson, Asst. U.S. Attys., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and EDGERTON, Senior Circuit Judge, and ROBINSON, Circuit Judge.

BAZELON, Chief Judge:

In this appeal from denial of habeas corpus, appellant attacks the mandatory commitment provisions of D.C.Code § 24-301(d) (hereinafter Subsection (d)) 1 and the release provisions of D.C.Code § 24-301(e). 2 These provisions

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apply after a successful voluntary plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. The primary contention is that these provisions violate equal protection because they do not afford safeguards available for those civilly committed under the Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act of 1964. 3

Gerald C. Bolton was charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle 4 and transportation of a stolen motor vehicle 5 in June 1965. At trial in August 1966 defense counsel stipulated to the facts concerning the alleged offense and relied solely on a plea of insanity. The only witness at the trial was Dr. George Weichardt, a psychiatrist on the staff of Saint Elizabeths Hospital. He gave this interesting account of appellant's early history.

Mr. Bolton was originally admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital at the age of approximately 16 years-- that was in 1949. The hospital records show that his mother complained that he refused to bathe, that he preferred to stay in the house all the time, that he wanted all the window shades pulled down, and that he became so unruly at home that she took him to D.C. General Hospital and from there he was transferred to St. Elizabeths. He remained on the rolls of St. Elizabeths Hospital up until 1957.

I might say that during that time it came out that Mr. Bolton had a peculiar fascination with automobiles and that on several occasions he left the hospital without permission.

In 1951 he left the hospital without permission and it was said when he returned that he had been involved in difficulty with an automobile.

In 1952 he left the hospital again without permission and took an automobile to Georgia and then to New York. He was hospitalized then at Bellvue Hospital in New York City, and later at the Pilgrim State Hospital in New York state.

He eventually returned to the hospital. He made several more visits away from the hospital without permission.

Finally in 1957 he eloped from the hospital and at that time the record shows that he was arrested in Florida for theft of an automobile. Since he was civilly committed to the hospital the hospital had no way to get him back and he was discharged from the hospital while he was on this elopement status.

Dr. Weichardt stated that appellant was suffering from mental illness at the time of the stipulated offenses in 1965 and that these offenses were a product of this illness.

He also testified that after the offenses in 1965 and before trial in 1966, Bolton was treated for five months at the Rockland State Hospital in Orangeburg, New York. But he was not asked and did not say that the hospital reported that appellant 'responded to chemo and psychotherapy, and general milieu treatment, ' and was discharged 'Condition: Recovered.' 6 And it

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further appeals that eight months after his release from the New York Hospital the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths reported that Bolton was 'suffering from mental illness * * * but is competent for trial.' At the conclusion of trial and with the apparent consent of the Government, Bolton was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital pursuant to Subsection(d).

Three months later he brought this habeas corpus action alleging inter alia that shortly after the stipulated offenses he was committed in July 1965 to the Rockland State Hospital where he was treated 'for six months and released as cured' of the mental illness which led him to commit the criminal acts. At a habeas corpus hearing held December 12, 1966, Dr. Weichardt, who was respondent's only witness, testified that appellant was still mentally ill and that if released 'he'd get in trouble taking automobiles again.' Bolton now appeals from the district court's denial of relief.


Before acquittal or conviction, a defendant's mental condition is relevant to two issues. One is competence to stand trial-- i.e., whether he is able to 'understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense.' 7 For this purpose, the inquiry is focused on present mental condition, namely, at the time of trial. The other is criminal responsibility-- i.e., whether the act charged, if committed, was the product of mental disease or defect. 8 For this purpose, the inquiry is focused on past mental condition, namely, at the time of the offense. Even though a defendant may not be suffering from an abnormal mental condition at the time of trial, his mental condition at the time of the offense may require his acquittal by reason of insanity. 9

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In Cameron v. Mullen, 10 we held that upon an acquittal by reason of insanity over a defendant's objection, a third inquiry is required for commitment, one that embodies the procedural safeguards of civil commitment. This inquiry, like the one on competence to stand trial, concerns present mental condition, but its purpose is to determine whether the defendant is mentally ill, dangerous and in need of treament. 11 A defendant who was insane for the purpose of responsibility at the time of the offense may not be insane for the purpose of civil commitment at the time of the verdict, or (although competent to stand trial) he may be insane, dangerous and in need of treatment for the purpose of civil commitment. 12

Because the plea of insanity was imposed upon the defendant in Cameron v. Mullen, she was committed to Saint Elizabeths under D.C.Code § 24-301(a) (hereinafter Subsection (a)). By its terms that subsection applies 'prior to the imposition of sentence, ' and only for commitment of those found of 'unsound mind' or 'mentally incompetent to stand trial.' 13 But it has been employed after an unsought insanity acquittal, ever since the Supreme Court held in Lynch v. Overholser, 14 that Subsection (d)'s provision for automatic commitment was not available after such acquittal.

In a habeas corpus petition, Mrs. Mullen challenged the validity of her confinement under Subsection (a). After the district court found that subsection unavailable, we held that she was entitled to have the more protective provisions of the 1964 Hospitalization of the Mentally Ill Act. We relied upon our decision in Cameron v. Fisher 15 in which we had held Subsection (a) unavailable by its own terms. We also relied on the principle derived from the Supreme Court's decision in Baxstrom v. Herold, 16 that the commission of criminal acts does not give rise to a presumption of dangerousness which, standing alone, justifies substantial difference in commitment procedures and confinement conditions for the mentally ill. We concluded that 'while prior criminal conduct is relevant to the determination whether a person is mentally ill and dangerous, it cannot justify denial of procedural safeguards for that determination.' 17 And we also concluded that 'while prior criminal conduct is a relevant consideration for determining the conditions of custodial care, it does not provide an automatic basis for allowing significant and arbitrary differences in such conditions.' 18 We think the principles of Baxstrom also apply where, as here, the defendant is acquitted upon his own plea of insanity.

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Subsection (d) provides for automatic commitment without any hearing, even though acquittal by reason of insanity reflects only a reasonable doubt that the defendant was sane at the time of the offense. 19 Like commitment under Subsection (a), the period of confinement under Subsection (d) is indeterminate and is unrelated to the period for which sentence could have been imposed upon conviction. 20 A patient confined under Subsection (d) may be released only upon order of the court. The order must be based upon either the certificate of the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital 21 or the patient's petition for habeas corpus. 22 The Superintendent may certify either that the patient has recovered his sanity, that he will not be dangerous to himself or others in the foreseeable future, and that he is entitled to unconditional release; or that, while not fully recovered, he is eligible for conditional release. In either case, the court may release the patient on the certificate or it may hold an evidentiary hearing concerning his recovery. It has been held that for release on habeas, the patient must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he is free 'from such abnormal mental condition as would make the individual dangerous to himself or others in the foreseeable future.' 23 and, according to some cases, that the Superintendent's refusal to issue a certificate is arbitrary and capricious. 24

So construed, this statutory scheme would conceivably allow a patient committed under Subsection (d) to remain in the hospital for the rest of his life without a judicial...

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