579 F.2d 324 (5th Cir. 1978), 77-2483, Powell v. State of Florida

Docket Nº:77-2483.
Citation:579 F.2d 324
Party Name:James POWELL, Petitioner-Appellee, v. STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent-Appellant.
Case Date:August 30, 1978
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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579 F.2d 324 (5th Cir. 1978)

James POWELL, Petitioner-Appellee,


STATE OF FLORIDA, Respondent-Appellant.

No. 77-2483.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

August 30, 1978

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Robert L. Shevin, Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, Fla., Mary Jo M. Gallay, Asst. Atty. Gen., Tampa, Fla., for respondent-appellant.

B. Robert Ohle, St. Petersburg, Fla., for petitioner-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before BROWN, Chief Judge, THORNBERRY and CLARK, Circuit Judges.

CHARLES CLARK, Circuit Judge:

In this appeal from the grant of a writ of habeas corpus, the state of Florida attacks the district court's holding that the petitioner's equal protection rights were violated since he, a person acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity, was not afforded the same procedural protections before commitment to a state mental hospital that apply in other involuntary civil commitment cases. We vacate, holding that although a state must afford insanity acquitees substantially the same protections that it gives persons committed under the ordinary civil commitment statutes, it may treat insanity acquitees differently to the extent that the distinction has some relevance to a legitimate state interest. Finding the record inadequate to determine whether Florida complied with this standard in this case, we remand for further proceedings.

I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

On November 1, 1972, James Powell was charged by information with premeditated murder. He timely filed a notice of intention to rely upon the defense of insanity at the time of the offense, 1 and after trial the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity." Powell moved for a judgment of acquittal and for immediate release, but the trial judge by order of May 22, 1973, denied these motions. Since the only defense seriously asserted at trial was the insanity defense, the judge "determine(d) and rule(d) that the verdict returned by the jury was that of not guilty by reason of insanity therefore placing the Defendant under the provisions of Rule 3.460 Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure." 2

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Acting pursuant to Rule 3.460, the trial judge in that same order made the following determination:

Considering the evidence adduced at trial, the plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and the verdict entered in this cause, the Court finds that the Defendant James Powell is manifestly dangerous to the peace and safety of the people and should not be allowed to go at large and an appropriate order shall issue requiring his delivery to the State Hospital for appropriate treatment.

This determination was made without a hearing and without the benefit of evidence regarding Powell's present mental condition. The order committing Powell to the Florida State Hospital, Chattahoochee, Florida, for appropriate treatment was entered on May 24, 1973, and Powell entered the hospital on June 20.

On January 22, 1975, the superintendent of the Florida State Hospital notified the trial judge that Powell's treatment "has been completed and further hospitalization is not indicated at this time. He has been found to be no longer dangerous to the safety of others." A clinical summary accompanied this letter, indicating Powell's final diagnosis to be "Psychosis with Drug Intoxication (Cocaine), in remission." The report expressed the clinical psychologist's feeling that Powell would not be dangerous, provided he remained off drugs, and it expressed the General Staff Conference's consensus that Powell was no longer dangerous and that he should be returned to the court for the final disposition of his case. The report concluded with the recommendation that Powell be actively involved in a drug rehabilitation program so that adequate supervision could be attained while he readjusted to his return to society.

In response to this letter and Powell's motion to compel release, the court called a hearing on March 6, 1974, at which testimony was taken and arguments heard on Powell's then mental condition. Unfortunately the transcript of this hearing is not in this habeas corpus record, so we do not know who testified or about what they testified. Following this hearing, the court on March 12, 1974, entered an order denying Powell's motion to compel release. In relevant part that order states:

The recommendations of the hospital and treating physicians are based upon the assumption that this court would have continuing jurisdiction over James Powell after his discharge from hospitalization and consequently could recognize and prevent future narcotic intoxication. This assumption is incorrect.

This court finds from the evidence that the underlying psychosis remains even though the symptoms are in a state of remission. The patient remains a manifest danger to himself and others and therefore his hospitalization should be continued.

Powell next sought habeas corpus relief in the Florida Supreme Court. That court held that the trial judge's finding that Powell was still manifestly dangerous was fully supported by the evidence presented at the March 6, 1974 hearing, and finding no other error, it denied the writ. Powell v. Genung, 306 So.2d 113 (Fla.1974).

Turning to the federal courts, Powell filed a petition for habeas corpus in the middle district of Florida on January 15, 1975, alleging that Florida deprived him of due process of law and of equal protection in that his original commitment and the provisions for his release differed from the procedures used in civilly committing other insane persons. 3 While this petition was pending, Powell received administrative hearings on the need for his continued hospitalization. 4 Also during the pendency of

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this petition, the state trial judge on October 4, 1976, granted a petition filed by Powell requesting convalescent leave or furlough to attend college courses in Michigan up to and including the academic term commencing in January 1977. On June 14, 1977, the federal district court, adopting the magistrate's recommendation, entered an order granting Powell's petition for writ of habeas corpus. In an accompanying opinion the court held (i) the petition was not mooted by Powell's eighteen-month furlough to attend college in Michigan; (ii) the original commitment under Fla.R.Crim.P. 3.460 violated Powell's due process rights; (iii) the March 6, 1974 hearing on Powell's motion for release cured the original due process defect; (iv) the original commitment under Fla.R.Crim.P. 3.460 violated Powell's equal protection rights; (v) the March 6, 1974 hearing did not cure the original equal protection violation since Powell still was not provided with the statutory procedures applicable to others involuntarily civilly committed; (vi) the requirement that court approval be obtained prior to the discharge of a citizen committed under Fla.R.Crim.P. 3.460 does not violate equal protection. The district court granted the writ because of the equal protection violation finding and ordered that Powell be released from custody and from all conditions sought to be imposed upon him because of his acquittal by reason of insanity. It is from that order that Florida appeals.

II. Florida's Scheme of Involuntary Commitment

Although Powell, as an insanity acquitee, was committed to the Florida State Hospital pursuant to Fla.R.Crim.P. 3.460, all other classes of involuntarily hospitalized citizens were entitled to procedures provided by Fla.Stat.Ann. § 394.467 (1973). 5 Under § 394.467(1), the criteria for involuntary hospitalization were that a person be (i) mentally ill and (ii) likely to injure himself or others if not hospitalized. Under emergency conditions, or upon petition by a concerned citizen followed by notice and a hearing, a court could order the patient admitted to a receiving facility for evaluation, for a period not to exceed five days. § 394.463. Proceedings to determine whether the patient met the criteria for involuntary hospitalization were activated if the administrator of the receiving facility recommended, on a "hospitalization certificate," that the patient be hospitalized in a treatment facility. § 394.467(2). This recommendation had to be supported by the opinions of two physicians who had examined the patient within the preceding five days that the criteria for involuntary hospitalization were met. Id. The hospitalization certificate, which was required to be filed with the...

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