629 P.2d 1040 (Colo. 1981), 80SA187, People v. Chavez

Docket Nº:80SA187.
Citation:629 P.2d 1040
Opinion Judge:QUINN, Justice.
Party Name:The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Manuel CHAVEZ, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Stephan A. Tisdel, Dist. Atty., LaJunta, for plaintiff-appellant., J. Gregory Walta, Colorado State Public Defender, Shelley Gilman, Deputy State, Public Defender, Colorado Springs, for defendant-appellee. Stephan A. Tisdel, Dist. Atty., LaJunta, for plaintiff-appellant. J. Gregory Walta, Colora...
Case Date:June 01, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of Colorado
 
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Page 1040

629 P.2d 1040 (Colo. 1981)

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

Manuel CHAVEZ, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 80SA187.

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 1, 1981

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Stephan A. Tisdel, Dist. Atty., LaJunta, for plaintiff-appellant.

J. Gregory Walta, Colorado State Public Defender, Shelley Gilman, Deputy State

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Public Defender, Colorado Springs, for defendant-appellee.

QUINN, Justice.

The People appeal from a judgment of the district court of Otero County holding section 16-8-105(4), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Rep. Vol. 8), unconstitutional as applied to the defendant, Manuel Chavez. That section requires the court to automatically commit a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity to the department of institutions until such time as he is found eligible for release. The court concluded that the commitment of the defendant, without a precommitment hearing to determine his mental condition at the time of commitment, violated due process of law and equal protection of the laws under the United States and Colorado Constitutions. U.S. Const., Amend. XIV; Colo.Const. Art. II, Sec. 25. 1 We find no constitutional infirmity in the defendant's commitment under the statutory scheme and we reverse and remand.

  1. The District Court Proceedings

    The defendant was charged in a two-count information with attempt to commit second degree murder 2 and felony menacing. 3 The charges resulted from events on August 31, 1977, during which the defendant, then twenty-five years of age, attempted to stab Noberto Montanez, the common law husband of his sister.

    On September 2, 1977, the district attorney moved for a determination of the defendant's competency to proceed, pursuant to section 16-8-110(2)(b), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). 4 The court ordered a competency examination at the Colorado State Hospital and, on the basis of the hospital's report, found the defendant incompetent to proceed by virtue of a mental disease, specifically "(s)chizophrenia, paranoid type, that renders him incapable of understanding the nature and course of the proceedings against him (or) of participating in his defense or cooperating with his defense counsel." 5 The court suspended the criminal proceeding and committed him to the department of institutions "until such time as he is found to be competent to proceed." Section 16-8-112(2), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8).

    On November 14, 1977, the superintendent of the state hospital filed a report with the court expressing the opinion that the defendant was now competent to proceed. Shortly thereafter the court held a restoration hearing pursuant to section 16-8-114(1), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), 6 and adjudicated the defendant restored to competency. On that same date the defendant entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity to the criminal charges previously filed, after having been advised by the court of the effect and consequences of the insanity plea, as required by section 16-8-103(4), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8). The defendant was again committed to the Colorado State Hospital for a sanity examination.

    The psychiatric report filed with the court contained a detailed description of the defendant's bizarre conduct in attempting to stab the victim at a motel in Rocky Ford, Colorado. According to the defendant's statement to the police after his arrest, he

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    "was sent to Colorado to free his sister from the bondage of her relationship with this man," whom he considered a "no-good drunk." The defendant believed it was his mission "to free all people from their bondage with the Devil." The examining psychiatrist concluded that the defendant was legally insane at the time of the commission of the crimes charged against him.

    On December 7, 1977, the defendant waived a jury trial and the insanity issue was tried to the court. The only evidence offered and admitted at the trial was the report of the sanity examination. The court found the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity on both counts of the information and, pursuant to section 16-8-105(4), C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl. Vol. 8), committed him "to the custody of the department of institutions until such time as he is found eligible for release."

    On July 20, 1979, over a year and one-half after the insanity commitment, the defendant filed a motion for a statutory release hearing and a court ordered release examination. 7 Simultaneously, the defendant filed a motion for immediate release from commitment, claiming that the failure of section 16-8-105(4) to provide for a judicial determination of the defendant's mental condition and need for treatment at the time of the commitment violates due process of law, and that the substantial differences in procedure between a criminal insanity commitment and a civil commitment deny him equal protection of the laws.

    The court ordered a release examination by the state hospital. The hospital report outlined the defendant's prior criminal record, his previous hospitalizations for mental treatment, and the course and current status of his present commitment. The defendant's prior criminal history included a 1971 conviction and reformatory sentence in New Mexico at age 17 for arson, followed by a 1973 burglary conviction and penitentiary sentence in New Mexico. He was released from this latter sentence on August 22, 1977, a few days prior to the attempted stabbing that ultimately resulted in his present commitment. His prior hospitalization included at least four institutional transfers to the New Mexico State Hospital during his previous incarcerations, with resulting diagnoses of latent schizophrenia, drug dependence and an inadequate-personality disorder. The defendant's course of conduct at the Colorado State Hospital since his commitment in December 1977 was marked by physical confrontations with other patients and an escape. According to the release examination report his present problems stemmed from schizophrenic thought processes, drug and alcohol abuse, assaultiveness and a lengthy antisocial background. It was the opinion of the superintendent of the state hospital that the defendant "continues to suffer from a mental disease or defect which is likely to cause him to be dangerous to himself, to others, or to the community in the reasonably foreseeable future" and, therefore, the defendant "is not eligible for release from hospital care and treatment."

    The court conducted a trial on the issue of the defendant's eligibility for release. 8 The defendant testified that he was no

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    longer mentally ill and, upon his release, would be willing to undergo necessary treatment for his chronic problems with alcohol and other drugs. The defendant's other witness was his mother, who expressed a willingness to take him into her home. The state's evidence consisted principally of the testimony of a hospital staff psychiatrist. He described the defendant's stormy course of behavior at the hospital, stated that the defendant was presently suffering from chronic paranoid schizophrenia rendering him dangerous to himself and others, and described his prognosis as guarded.

    On January 31, 1980, the court entered written findings of fact and conclusions of law. It concluded that although the defendant had failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence his eligibility for statutory release, his commitment under section 16-8-105(4) violated due process of law and equal protection of the laws because he had not been given a precommitment hearing. Since the evidence at the release hearing established that the defendant continued to suffer from a mental disease or defect rendering him dangerous to himself and others in the reasonably foreseeable future, the court ordered that, upon completion of a seventy-two-hour evaluation pursuant to section 27-10-105(1)(b), C.R.S.1973 (1980 Supp.), 9 any subsequent commitment for treatment would be effected under those statutory provisions dealing with the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Section 27-10-101 et seq., C.R.S.1973 (1978 Repl.Vol. 8). 10

    The People on this appeal contest the trial court's determination that, as applied to the defendant, the statutory procedures for automatic commitment upon an adjudication of insanity are constitutionally flawed. We conclude that the commitment of the defendant pursuant to section 16-8-105(4), without a precommitment hearing, did not violate due process of law. We also conclude that the differences in the commitment procedures and standards of release for criminal and civil commitments do not violate equal protection of the laws.

  2. Due Process of Law

    The trial court found the automatic commitment procedures of section 16-8-105(4) constitutionally lacking in due process of law because they deprived the defendant of a constitutionally protected liberty interest without a prior hearing. When dealing with due process a bifurcated analysis is appropriate. The first consideration relates to the nature of the interest and the second to the character of the process.

    The first inquiry is whether the order of commitment deprived the defendant of "liberty", as that term is used in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article II, Section 25 of the Colorado Constitution. See Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 100 S.Ct. 1254, 63 L.Ed.2d 552 (1980); Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976); Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 92 S.Ct. 2593, 33 L.Ed.2d 484 (1972); Coleman v. Darden, 595 F.2d 533 (10th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 927, 100 S.Ct. 267, 62 L.Ed.2d 184 (1979). It can no longer be doubted that commitment to a mental institution constitutes a severe infringement on the basic interest of an individual to be free from governmental restraint and thus requires due process protection. Vitek v. Jones, supra; Addington v. Texas, 441

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    U.S....

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