445 U.S. 480 (1980), 78-1155, Vitek v. Jones

Docket Nº:No. 78-1155
Citation:445 U.S. 480, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552
Party Name:Vitek v. Jones
Case Date:March 25, 1980
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 480

445 U.S. 480 (1980)

100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552

Vitek

v.

Jones

No. 78-1155

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1980

Argued December 3, 1979

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA

Syllabus

Appellee, a convicted felon, was transferred from state prison to a mental hospital pursuant to a Nebraska statute (§ 83-180(1)) which provides that, if a designated physician or psychologist finds that a prisoner "suffers from a mental disease or defect" that "cannot be given proper treatment" in prison, the Director of Correctional Services may transfer the prisoner to a mental hospital. In an action challenging the constitutionality of § 83-180(1) on procedural due process grounds, the District Court declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to appellee, holding that transferring him to the mental hospital without adequate notice and opportunity for a hearing deprived him of liberty without due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and that such transfers must be accompanied by adequate notice, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, a written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision, and the availability of appointed counsel for indigent prisoners. The court permanently enjoined the State from transferring appellee (who meanwhile had been transferred back to prison) to the mental hospital without following the prescribed procedures. Subsequently, appellee was paroled on condition that he accept mental treatment, but he violated that parole and was returned to prison. Relying on appellee's history of mental illness and the State's representation that he was a serious threat to his own and others' safety, the District Court held that the parole and revocation thereof did not render the case moot, because appellee was still subject to being transferred to the mental hospital.

Held: The judgment is affirmed as modified. Pp. 486-497; 497-500.

Affirmed as modified.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, IV-A, and V, concluding that:

1. The District Court properly found that the case is not moot. The reality of the controversy between appellee and the State has not been lessened by the cancellation of his parole and his return to prison, where he is protected from further transfer by the District Court's judgment

Page 481

and injunction. Under these circumstances, it is not "absolutely clear," absent the injunction, that the State's alleged wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur. Pp. 486-487.

2. The involuntary transfer of appellee to a mental hospital implicates a liberty interest that is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 487-494.

(a) The District Court properly identified a liberty interest rooted in § 83-180(1), under which a prisoner could reasonably expect that he would not be transferred to a mental hospital without a finding that he was suffering from a mental illness for which he could not secure adequate treatment in prison. The State's reliance on the opinion of a designated physician or psychologist for determining whether the conditions warranting transfer exist neither removes the prisoner's interest from due process protection nor answers the question of what process is due under the Constitution. Pp. 488-491.

(b) The District Court was also correct in holding that, independently of § 83-180(1), the transfer of a prisoner from a prison to a mental hospital must be accompanied by appropriate procedural protections. Involuntary commitment to a mental hospital is not within the range of conditions of confinement to which a prison sentence subjects an individual. While a conviction [100 S.Ct. 1258] and sentence extinguish an individual's right to freedom from confinement for the term of his sentence, they do not authorize the State to classify him as mentally ill and to subject him to involuntary psychiatric treatment without affording him additional due process protections. Here, the stigmatizing consequences of a transfer to a mental hospital for involuntary psychiatric treatment, coupled with the subjection of the prisoner to mandatory behavior modification as a treatment for mental illness, constitute the kind of deprivations of liberty that requires procedural protections. Pp. 491-494.

3. The District Court properly identified and weighed the relevant factors in arriving at its judgment. Pp. 495-496.

(a) Although the State's interest in segregating and treating mentally ill patients is strong, the prisoner's interest in not being arbitrarily classified as mentally ill and subjected to unwelcome treatment is also powerful, and the risk of error in making the determinations required by § 83-180(1) is substantial enough to warrant appropriate procedural safeguards against error. P. 495.

(b) The medical nature of the inquiry as to whether or not to transfer a prisoner to a mental hospital does not justify dispensing with due process requirements. P. 495.

Page 482

(c) Because prisoners facing involuntary transfer to a mental hospital are threatened with immediate deprivation of liberty interests, and because of the risk of mistaken transfer, the District Court properly determined that certain procedural protections, including notice and an adversary hearing, were appropriate in the circumstances present in this case. Pp. 495-496.

MR. JUSTICE WHITE, joined by MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, concluded in Part IV-B that it is appropriate that counsel be provided to indigent prisoners whom the State seeks to treat as mentally ill. Such a prisoner has an even greater need for legal assistance than does a prisoner who is illiterate and uneducated, because he is more likely to be unable to understand or exercise his rights. Pp. 496-497.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL concluded that, although the State is free to appoint a licensed attorney to represent a prisoner who is threatened with involuntary transfer to a mental hospital, it is not constitutionally required to do so, and that due process will be satisfied so long as such a prisoner is provided qualified and independent assistance. Pp. 497-500.

WHITE, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III, IV-A, and V, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part IV-B, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 497. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 500. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 501.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court, except as to Part IV-B.

The question in this case is whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment entitles a prisoner convicted and incarcerated in the State of Nebraska to certain procedural

Page 483

protections, including notice, an adversary hearing, and provision of counsel, before he is transferred involuntarily to a state mental hospital for treatment of a mental disease or defect.

I

Nebraska Rev.Stat. § 8176(2) (1976) authorizes the Director of Correctional Services to designate any available, suitable, and appropriate residence facility or institution as a place of confinement for any state prisoner and to transfer a prisoner from one place of confinement to another. Section 8180(1), however, provides that, when a designated physician or psychologist finds that a prisoner "suffers from a mental disease or defect" and "cannot be given proper treatment in that facility," the director may transfer him for examination, study, and treatment to another institution within or without the Department of Correctional [100 S.Ct. 1259] Services.1 Any prisoner so transferred to a mental hospital is to be returned to the Department if, prior to the expiration of his sentence, treatment is no longer necessary. Upon expiration of sentence,

Page 484

if the State desires to retain the prisoner in a mental hospital, civil commitment proceedings must be promptly commenced. § 83-180(3).2

On May 31, 1974, Jones was convicted of robbery and sentenced to a term of three to nine years in state prison. He was transferred to the penitentiary hospital in January, 1975. Two days later, he was placed in solitary confinement, where he set his mattress on fire, burning himself severely. He was treated in the burn unit of a private hospital. Upon his release and based on findings required by § 83-180 that he was suffering from a mental illness or defect and could not receive proper treatment in the penal complex, he was transferred to the security unit of the Lincoln Regional Center, a state mental hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Institutions.

Jones then intervened in this case, which was brought by other prisoners against the appropriate state officials (the State) challenging on procedural due process grounds the adequacy of the procedures by which the Nebraska statutes permit transfers from the prison complex to a mental hospital.3 On August 17, 1976, a three-judge District Court, convened

Page 485

pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2281 (1970 ed.),4 denied the State's motion for summary judgment, and trial ensued. On September 12, 1977, the District Court declared § 83-180 unconstitutional as applied to Jones, holding that transferring Jones to a mental hospital without adequate notice and opportunity for a hearing deprived him of liberty without due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and that such transfers must be accompanied by adequate notice, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, a written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP