410 F.2d 1071 (2nd Cir. 1969), 434, United States ex rel. Schuster v. Herold

Docket Nº:434, 32194.
Citation:410 F.2d 1071
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Roy SCHUSTER, Relator-Appellant, v. Ross E. HEROLD, M.D., Director of Dannemora State Hospital, Dannemora, New York, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:April 24, 1969
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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410 F.2d 1071 (2nd Cir. 1969)

UNITED STATES of America ex rel. Roy SCHUSTER, Relator-Appellant,


Ross E. HEROLD, M.D., Director of Dannemora State Hospital, Dannemora, New York, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 434, 32194.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

April 24, 1969

Argued March 12, 1969.

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Faith A. Seidenberg, George J. Alexander, Syracuse, N.Y., for relator-appellant.

Arlene R. Silverman, New York City (Louis J. Lefkowitz, Atty. Gen., for the State of New York, and Samuel A. Hirshowitz, First Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief), for respondent-appellee.

Before MOORE, KAUFMAN and FEINBERG, Circuit Judges.

IRVING R. KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

We have, thankfully, come a long way from the days when ignorance induced fear of the mentally ill. As great strides in psychiatric knowledge have been paralleled by evolving concepts of due process, humane procedures for the commitment and treatment of the mentally ill have replaced snake pits and witch hunts. The time has long since passed when a mere charge that one was 'possessed by demons' would automatically result in banishment for insanity.

Petitioner's allegations in this proceeding must be weighed against this background of gradual development. These allegations, which are in the main uncontested, may be briefly summarized: In 1941, while incarcerated in Clinton State Prison, Roy Schuster expressed his belief in the existence of 'corruption' in the prison administration. Shortly thereafter, solely on the strength of a prison doctor's finding the Schuster's charges evidenced 'the paranoid idea that members of the (prison) personnel are against him,' Schuster was transferred from Clinton to Dannemora State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In accordance with New York law as it then stood, Schuster was afforded no meaningful hearing on the issue of his sanity, was not permitted the assistance of counsel, was given no opportunity to call his own witnesses, was given no advance notice of the nature of the transfer proceedings, and was transferred to Dannemora within twenty-four hours after he was first seen by the prison doctor.

Despite repeated attempts to void the transfer in both state and federal courts, Schuster remains in Dannemora, more than twenty years after he would have been eligible for parole had he not been transferred from Clinton. His petition was dismissed on December 8, 1967 by Judge Port below, after a hearing primarily devoted to the validity of Schuster's charges of prison corruption. At no time during the course of his several state and federal actions has the question of Schuster's sanity adequately been determined.

For the reasons we shall set forth, we believe that before a prisoner may be transferred to a state institution for insane criminals, he must be afforded substantially the same procedural safeguards as are provided in civil commitment proceedings, including proper examination, a hearing upon notice, period-review of the need for commitment, and trial by jury. If these procedures result in a determination that Roy Schuster is sane, he should be returned to Clinton Prison, where he will be eligible for parole. As an observer has recently noted, those 'twice cursed'-- as criminal and as mentally ill-- should not be 'punished' for the 'crime' of becoming mentally sick while serving a prison sentence. Morris, The Confusion of Confinement Syndrome: An Analysis of the Confinement of Mentally Ill criminals and Ex-Criminals by the Department of Correction of the State of New York, 17 Buff.L.Rev. 651 (1968) (hereinafter cited as Morris).


Schuster's Crime and Trial

During the 1920's Roy Schuster was a successful tap-dancer, performing in theaters across the nation. His earnings were considerable by the standards of the day, reaching over $200 a week. on one tour through Milwaukee, Schuster, then 22, met a girl, fell in love, and after a brief courtship agreed to marry her, although he later insisted that she was pregnant by another man at the

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time. At his wife's inducement, he abandoned the stage and settled down to raise a family. Accordingly, Schuster became a dance instructor at Ned Wayburn's dancing school at a substantially diminished salary. Being industrious, however, he was able to increase his weekly income to approximately $150.

Then came the Depression. Schuster's income was cut to $75 and then cut again and again to as little at $11 a week. As the creditors closed in, the romance evaporated. Schuster and his wife quarreled frequently and he even accused her of adultery and neglect of their daughter Coleen, then three years of age. The two separated, reconciled, and separated again. Schuster became so upset when the formal separation action was commenced that he attempted suicide. Mrs. Schuster responded to his distress by securing a court order directing Schuster to pay a fixed sum for the support of his family. Soon he found the payments burdensome and difficult to meet in those lean days. But Amy Schuster pressed for her payments. In settlement discussions she insisted that she would take no less than $40 a week, no matter how little Schuster was earning.

Finally, Mrs. Schuster threatened to have her husband jailed for contempt of court if he did not pay. Faced with this equivalent of the debtor's prison, Schuster became more distraught. He pleaded with his wife that if she went ahead with her plan, he would lose the small dance studio he had just opened and be irrevocably ruined with no benefit to anyone. During the course of settlement discussions the acrimony mounted and Schuster threatened suicide on several occasions. Finally, Amy agreed to meet him one morning to discuss the securing of the contempt order in front of 51 Chambers Street, New York where both Amy's and Roy's lawyers maintained offices.

Schuster and his wife met as planned. They went first to his lawyer's office but he was not in. They then proceeded to her lawyer's office. Schuster allegedly pleaded with Amy's lawyer, 'Will you please give me a chance, let me explain the situation? Let me prove to you I have no money. If you put me in jail Monday, you will put me out of business. You will destroy my future, you will make me commit suicide.' With that tragic peroration he drew a .32 caliber revolver from his pocket. Bedlam ensued and in the chaos Schuster fired several shots wounding her lawyer and killing his wife.

Subsequently, Schuster was indicted for murder in the first degree. His defense was that he had carried the revolver with the intention of committing suicide. He insisted that his wife's lawyer lunged for the gun when Schuster drew it from his pocket and that at the moment Schuster was in a state of 'panic' and was not aware of what was happening. The gun, according to his testimony at the trial, somehow was discharged in all the excitement.

To rebut the claim of 'panic' the state introduced expert evidence that Schuster was not suffering from any mental disease. The state's psychiatric expert, Dr. Perry M. Lichtenstein, then Resident Physician at the City Prison, denied repeatedly that Schuster was suffering from any form of delusion or mental disease. After a trial lasting one week, a jury found Schuster guilty of murder in the second degree. On November 2, 1931, Schuster, then 27 years old, was sentenced to a term of from twenty-five years to life.

a. Schuster's Imprisonment

Schuster was sent first to Sing Sing and then transferred in 1935 to Clinton State Prison. There he made a good adjustment. He taught a 'cell-study' course leading to a high school equivalency degree, and even received a letter from the New York State Board of Education commending him for his work. In the normal course of events, Schuster might have expected to serve his time and to be eligible for parole in 1948,

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when he was still not too old to build a new life. But, in 1941, life took another wrong turn for him. Schuster became convinced of corruption in the prison, particularly on the part of the official in charge of the prison education program. His expression of this belief led to his transfer to Dannemora State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Although Schuster charges that the state 'buried him alive' in Dannemora to prevent him from bringing the corruption to light, the district court was unconvinced the transfer was corruptly motivated. The state contends that there was no corruption, that Schuster was and is a 'paranoid' and that his insistence upon the existence of a scandal is prime evidence of his delusion.

Schuster entered Dannemora on September 9, 1941, at the age of 37. Now 64 years old, he still languishes there.

Schuster's transfer to Dannemora accorded with the provisions of 383 of the New York Correction Law, McKinney's Consol.Laws, c. 43, as it then read. 1 That section provided for automatic transfer upon the certification of a single prison doctor that the prisoner was 'in his opinion insane.' Schuster's commitment certificate, signed by Leaman H. Caswell, M.D., the physician at Clinton Prison, whose qualifications in psychiatry we are unable to determine from the record before us, sketchily summarized his single conversation with the prisoner, and went on to remark with breathtaking simplicity: 'He was circumstantial in his conversation, very talkative, complained bitterly. He was paranoid and suspicious. * * * This man was reported for writing letters regarding cowardly attacks made against him by the personnel and requested that something be done about it. In his letters he has shown the paranoid idea that members of the personnel are against him.' Dr. Caswell attempted no further diagnosis of Schuster's condition except for the understandable observation that the prisoner was 'depressed.' Although the certificate explicitly requested information as to whether the patient was...

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