406 U.S. 715 (1972), 70-5009, Jackson v. Indiana

Docket Nº:No. 70-5009
Citation:406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435
Party Name:Jackson v. Indiana
Case Date:June 07, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 715

406 U.S. 715 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435




No. 70-5009

United States Supreme Court

June 7, 1972

Argued November 18, 1971



The Indiana procedure for pretrial commitment of incompetent criminal defendants set forth in Ind.Ann.Stat. § 9-1706a provides that a trial judge with "reasonable ground" to believe the defendant to be incompetent to stand trial must appoint two examining physicians and schedule a competency hearing, at which the defendant may introduce evidence. If the court, on the basis of the physicians' report and "other evidence," finds that the defendant lacks "comprehension sufficient to understand the proceedings and make his defense," the trial is delayed and the defendant is remanded to the state department of mental health for commitment to an "appropriate psychiatric institution" until defendant shall become "sane." Other statutory provisions apply to commitment of citizens who are "feeble-minded, and are therefore unable properly to care for themselves." The procedures for committing such persons are substantially similar to those for determining a criminal defendant's pretrial competency, but a person committed as "feeble-minded" may be released "at any time" his condition warrants it in the judgment of the superintendent of the institution. Indiana also has a comprehensive commitment scheme for the "mentally ill," i.e., those with a "psychiatric disorder" as defined by the statute, who can be committed on a showing of mental illness and need for "care, treatment, training or detention." A person so committed may be released when the superintendent of the institution shall discharge him, or when he is cured. Petitioner in this case, a mentally defective deaf mute, who cannot read, write, or virtually otherwise communicate, was charged with two criminal offenses and committed under the § 9-1706a procedure. The doctors' report showed that petitioner's condition precluded his understanding the nature of the charges against him or participating in his defense, and their testimony showed that the prognosis was "rather dim"; that, even if petitioner were not a deaf mute, he would be incompetent to stand trial; and that petitioner's intelligence was not sufficient to enable him ever to develop the necessary communication skills. According to a deaf school interpreter's testimony, the State had no facilities that could help petitioner

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learn minimal communication skills. After finding that petitioner "lack[ed] comprehension sufficient to make his defense," the court ordered petitioner committed until such time as the health department could certify petitioner's sanity to the court. Petitioner's counsel filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. The State Supreme Court affirmed. Contending that his commitment was tantamount to a "life sentence" without his having been convicted of a crime, petitioner claims that commitment under § 9-1706a deprived him of equal protection because, absent the criminal charges against him, the State would have had to proceed under the other statutory procedures for the feeble-minded or those for the mentally ill, under either of which petitioner would have been entitled to substantially greater rights. Petitioner also asserts that indefinite commitment under the section deprived him of due process and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.


1. By subjecting petitioner to a more lenient commitment standard and to a more stringent standard of release than those generally applicable to all other persons not charged with offenses, thus condemning petitioner to permanent institutionalization without the showing required for commitment or the opportunity for release afforded by ordinary civil commitment procedures, Indiana deprived petitioner of equal protection. Cf. Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107. Pp. 723-731.

2. Indiana's indefinite commitment of a criminal defendant solely on account of his lack of capacity to stand trial violates due process. Such a defendant cannot be held more than the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain competency in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that he will not, the State must either institute civil proceedings applicable to indefinite commitment of those not charged with crime or release the defendant. Greenwood v. United States, 350 U.S. 366, distinguished. Pp. 731-739.

3. Since the issue of petitioner's criminal responsibility at the time of the alleged offenses (as distinguished from the issue of his competency to stand trial) has not been determined, and other matters of defense may remain to be resolved, it would be premature for this Court to dismiss the charges against petitioner. Pp. 739-741.

253 Ind. 487, 255 N.E.2d 515, reversed and remanded.

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BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are here concerned with the constitutionality of certain aspects of Indiana's system for pretrial commitment of one accused of crime.

Petitioner, Theon Jackson, is a mentally defective deaf mute with a mental level of a pre-school child. He cannot read, write, or otherwise communicate except through limited sign language. In May, 1968, at age 27, he was charged [92 S.Ct. 1848] in the Criminal Court of Marion County, Indiana, with separate robberies of two women. The offenses were alleged to have occurred the preceding July. The first involved property (a purse and its con tents) of the value of four dollars. The second concerned five dollars in money. The record sheds no light on these charges since, upon receipt of not-guilty pleas from Jackson, the trial court set in motion the Indiana procedures for determining his competency to stand trial. Ind.Ann.Stat. § 9-1706a (Supp. 1971),1 now Ind.Code 35-5-3-2 (1971).

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As the statute requires, the court appointed two psychiatrists to examine Jackson. A competency hearing was subsequently held at which petitioner was represented by counsel. The court received the examining doctors' joint written report and oral testimony from them and from a deaf-school interpreter through whom they had attempted to communicate with petitioner. The report concluded that Jackson's almost nonexistent communication skill, together with his lack of hearing and his mental deficiency, left him unable to understand the nature of the charges against him or to participate in his defense. One doctor testified that it was extremely

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unlikely that petitioner could ever learn to read or write and questioned whether petitioner even had the ability to develop any proficiency in sign language. He believed that the interpreter had not been able to communicate with petitioner to any great extent, and testified that petitioner's "prognosis appears rather dim." The other doctor testified that, even if Jackson were not a deaf mute, he would be incompetent to stand trial, and doubted whether petitioner had sufficient intelligence ever to develop the necessary communication skills. The interpreter testified that Indiana had no facilities that could help someone as badly off as Jackson to learn minimal communication skills.

On this evidence, the trial court found that Jackson "lack[ed] comprehension sufficient to make his defense," § 9-1706a, and ordered him committed to the Indiana Department of Mental Health until such time as that Department should certify to the court that "the defendant is sane."

Petitioner's counsel then filed a motion for a new trial, contending that there was no evidence that Jackson was "insane," or that he would ever attain a status which the court might regard as [92 S.Ct. 1849] "sane" in the sense of competency to stand trial. Counsel argued that Jackson's commitment under these circumstances amounted to a "life sentence" without his ever having been convicted of a crime, and that the commitment therefore deprived Jackson of his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, and constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth. The trial court denied the motion. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed, with one judge dissenting. 253 Ind. 487, 255 N.E.2d 515 (1970). Rehearing was denied, with two judges dissenting. We granted certiorari, 401 U.S. 973 (1971).

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For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that, on the record before us, Indiana cannot constitutionally commit the petitioner for an indefinite period simply on account of his incompetency to stand trial on the charges filed against him. Accordingly, we reverse.



Section 9-1706a contains both the procedural and substantive requirements for pretrial commitment of incompetent criminal defendants in Indiana. If at any time before submission of the case to the court or jury, the trial judge has "reasonable ground" to believe the defendant "to be insane,"2 he must appoint two examining physicians and schedule a competency hearing. The hearing is to the court alone, without a jury. The examining physicians' testimony and "other evidence" may be adduced on the issue of incompetency. If the court finds the defendant "has not comprehension sufficient to understand the proceedings and make his defense," trial is delayed or continued and the defendant is remanded to the state department of mental health to be confined in an "appropriate psychiatric institution." The section further...

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