Benham v. Edwards, No. 80-9052

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore TUTTLE, RONEY and ANDERSON; R. LANIER ANDERSON, III; In a comprehensive and scholarly opinion; RONEY
Citation678 F.2d 511
PartiesJoe BENHAM, Terry E. Anthony and Woodrow Biddle, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Joe EDWARDS and John R. Branning, individually and in their official capacities, Defendants-Appellants. . Unit B *
Decision Date27 May 1982
Docket NumberNo. 80-9052

Page 511

678 F.2d 511
Joe BENHAM, Terry E. Anthony and Woodrow Biddle,
individually and on behalf of all others similarly
situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
Joe EDWARDS and John R. Branning, individually and in their
official capacities, Defendants-Appellants.
No. 80-9052.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.
Unit B *
May 27, 1982.

Page 512

Carol Atha Cosgrove, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for defendants-appellants.

Robert B. Remar, Phyllis J. Holmen, Douglasville, Ga., Howard Sokol, Milledgeville, Ga., Kay Giese, Dalton, Ga., for plaintiffs-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Before TUTTLE, RONEY and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.

R. LANIER ANDERSON, III, Circuit Judge:

This is a class action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983 (West 1981) to challenge the Georgia procedures governing the involuntary commitment and release of persons who have been acquitted of criminal charges by reason of insanity (insanity acquittees). The plaintiffs' class was certified as consisting of "all persons who are, or will be, confined in mental hospitals pursuant to Ga.Code § 27-1503 (Ga.Laws 1977, pp. 1293, 1295-96, Sec. 2) following findings of not guilty by reason of insanity." Defendant Edwards is the Chief Executive Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources. Defendant John Branning is the Superintendent of Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital in Rome, Georgia. The defendants will be referred to as the "State" or as "Georgia." The procedures are challenged as violating both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The plaintiffs attack Ga.Code Ann. § 27-1503 (1978), 1 which sets forth the procedures

Page 513

that govern the disposition of defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity. These provisions, however, must be read in conjunction with the interpretive gloss which the appellate courts of Georgia have applied to the statute. See Clark v. State, 245 Ga. 629, 266 S.E.2d 466 (1980); Skelton v. Slaton, 243 Ga. 426, 254 S.E.2d 704 (1979); Pitts v. State, 151 Ga.App. 691, 261 S.E.2d 435 (1979); Pennewell v. State, 148 Ga.App. 611, 251 S.E.2d 832 (1979); Dubose v. State, 148 Ga.App. 9, 251 S.E.2d 15 (1978). The statutory scheme, as construed by the Georgia courts, can be summarized as follows. 2

Following a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity, 3 the trial court retains jurisdiction over the insanity acquittee and inquires into the present mental state of the person, and "upon a showing of good cause by the prosecutor" 4 may order such person to be confined to a mental hospital for not less than 30 days. In fact, the commitment is for an indefinite period of time since the State does not initiate a hearing to determine the current mental state of the insanity acquittee.

Once so committed to a state mental hospital the acquittee or the hospital must petition the committing court to secure the acquittee's release. A petition cannot be entertained within the initial thirty day period nor within twelve months of any prior petition. A valid petition will set in motion a hearing at which the sole issue is whether the insanity acquittee meets the criteria for civil commitment 5 under the Georgia Mental

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Health Code, Georgia Code Chapter 88-5 or 88-25. 6

In contrast, an M.H.C. committee must automatically receive a hearing within 17 days of his involuntary hospitalization, unless he in writing waives the right to this hearing. Although insanity acquittees and M.H.C. committees are guaranteed many of the same rights at their respective hearings (e.g., the right to counsel, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses), see 501 F.Supp. at 1056, the release hearing for insanity acquittees differs substantially in several ways from the commitment and release hearings for M.H.C. committees. Not only are insanity acquittees denied a state-initiated hearing at the start of their commitment, but they may apply for release only once every twelve months; after the initial commitment of the M.H.C. committee, the state must "recommit" the committee within six months, and at twelve month intervals thereafter. Insanity acquittees are presumed to be mentally ill; M.H.C. committees are not presumed to be mentally ill at either their commitment or recommitment hearings. Insanity acquittees bear the burden of proving their fitness for release and the State, therefore, need not prove by clear and convincing evidence that an acquittee meets the Chapter 88-5 criteria for continued confinement; the State must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the M.H.C. committee meets the Chapter 88-5 criteria. The release of an insanity acquittee must be ordered by the committing court; the hospital may release the M.H.C. committee at any time without any judicial approval. See Clark v. State, supra; Pitts v. State, supra; Pennewell v. State, supra; Ga.Code Ann. §§ 27-1503, 38-118, 88-501(u), 88-506.2, 88-506.5, and 88-506.6 (1978, 1979, 1981 and Supp. 1981).

In a comprehensive and scholarly opinion, Judge Murphy granted plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction, 7 holding: 8

1. That both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause require

Page 515

Georgia to provide insanity acquittees with a state-initiated initial commitment hearing;

2. That equal protection and due process considerations require that the State bear the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, the commitment criteria at the initial commitment hearing;

3. With respect to Georgia's presumption that an insanity acquittee's mental state continues, reliance on this presumption to justify procedural differences in the commitment process violates both equal protection and due process; and

4. That some of Georgia's procedures for the release of insanity acquittees violate equal protection and due process, but that Georgia's requirement of court approval for the release of insanity acquittees is constitutional when limited to acquittees who have committed violent crimes.

The State challenges each of the foregoing rulings. We will consider each in turn. In dealing with the release issue, we will address separately its three aspects: the requirement of court approval for the release of insanity acquittees, the burden of proof at the release hearing, and the frequency of applications for release. 9

Page 516

I. PRESUMPTION OF CONTINUING MENTAL STATE

Departing from the order in which the district court discussed the issues, we address first the constitutionality of Georgia's presumption that the mental state of an acquittee continues-i.e., once a defendant has been found not guilty by reason of insanity, in all subsequent legal proceedings Georgia law presumes, subject to rebuttal, that the acquittee is still legally insane. We address this issue first because the state asserts that this presumption is a partial justification for denying insanity acquittees a state-initiated commitment hearing and for the placement of the burden of proof on insanity acquittees.

The presumption derives from Ga.Code § 38-118, which provides: "Other presumptions of law, such as of ... continuance of ... a mental state once proved to exist ... may be rebutted by proof." Ga.Code § 38-118 (1981). Applying this statutory presumption, the Georgia scheme permits the presumption of present mental illness from the fact of the finding of insanity at the criminal trial. Clark v. State, 245 Ga. 629, 266 S.E.2d 466, 470, 476-77 (1980). Although

Page 517

the statute provides support only for a presumption that mental illness continues, Clark arguably creates a judicial presumption that the dangerousness 10 evidenced by the crime also continues. 11 Thus, the Georgia scheme combines a statutory presumption and an implicit judicial presumption of both present mental illness and present dangerousness from the fact of the insanity acquittal.

The district court held that both due process and equal protection prohibit utilization of the presumption either to justify denying insanity acquittees a state-initiated commitment hearing or to justify imposing on them a higher burden of proof. We need not decide whether the presumption violates due process, because it is, beyond peradventure, a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

At the initial commitment hearing for an M.H.C. committee, the State must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the M.H.C. committee is both mentally ill and dangerous. Six months after that initial determination, and annually thereafter, the State must "recommit" the M.H.C. committee, sustaining again a burden of proof, by clear and convincing evidence, that the M.H.C. committee is both mentally ill and dangerous. No presumption of continued mental illness or continued dangerousness is operative, see Clark v. State, 266 S.E.2d at 476, even though the standard to be proved at the subsequent hearing-i.e., mental illness and dangerousness-is identical to the standard at the initial hearing.

By contrast, Georgia applies the presumption against insanity acquittees, notwithstanding the fact that the insanity acquittal findings are somewhat different from the findings necessary for commitment, and notwithstanding the fact that the criminal trial, unlike the civil commitment hearing, is not focused on the two crucial findings, i.e., mental illness and dangerousness.

Several reasons convince us that there is no rational basis for applying the presumption against insanity acquittees and not against M.H.C. committees. First, although we acknowledge that the finding of insanity, whether it be pursuant to the M'Naghten standard or the delusional compulsion standard, 12 probably encompasses a finding of mental illness as that term is defined by Georgia Code § 88-501(a), we nevertheless doubt that the reliability of the insanity finding equals that of the finding of mental illness at a commitment...

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15 practice notes
  • Luna v. Van Zandt, Civ. A. No. B-78-13.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • November 24, 1982
    ...hearing. 657 F.2d 1017, 1023. The Fifth Circuit has found the Doe opinion persuasive in this respect. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 521 (5th Cir.1982) (state habeas corpus relief not an adequate substitute for state initiated...
  • Cleburne Living Center, Inc. v. City of Cleburne, Texas, No. 82-1565
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 5, 1984
    ...Fifth Circuit has not addressed this issue, except to say in dictum that the mentally ill are not a suspect class. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 515 n. 9 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982). The Court explicitly declined to decide whether intermediate scrutiny would be appropriate. In any event, ......
  • Glatz v. Kort, Nos. 84-1744
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 15, 1986
    ...the state must shoulder the burden of proof at an insanity acquittee's release hearing. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511 (5th Cir.1982). However, the Supreme Court vacated the former Fifth Circuit opinion and remanded for reconsideration in light of Jones v. U......
  • State ex rel. Watts v. Combined Community Services Bd. of Milwaukee County, No. 84-1107
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • April 30, 1985
    ...Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435 (1972), to have already applied the middle level of scrutiny. Cf. Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 515-16, n. 9 (5th Cir.1982), but cf. United States v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 128, 132-36 Though we recognize some courts and commentators advocate......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
15 cases
  • Luna v. Van Zandt, Civ. A. No. B-78-13.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • November 24, 1982
    ...hearing. 657 F.2d 1017, 1023. The Fifth Circuit has found the Doe opinion persuasive in this respect. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 521 (5th Cir.1982) (state habeas corpus relief not an adequate substitute for state initiated...
  • Cleburne Living Center, Inc. v. City of Cleburne, Texas, No. 82-1565
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 5, 1984
    ...Fifth Circuit has not addressed this issue, except to say in dictum that the mentally ill are not a suspect class. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 515 n. 9 (5th Cir. Unit B 1982). The Court explicitly declined to decide whether intermediate scrutiny would be appropriate. In any event, ......
  • Glatz v. Kort, Nos. 84-1744
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • December 15, 1986
    ...the state must shoulder the burden of proof at an insanity acquittee's release hearing. The Fifth Circuit affirmed. See Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511 (5th Cir.1982). However, the Supreme Court vacated the former Fifth Circuit opinion and remanded for reconsideration in light of Jones v. U......
  • State ex rel. Watts v. Combined Community Services Bd. of Milwaukee County, No. 84-1107
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • April 30, 1985
    ...Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435 (1972), to have already applied the middle level of scrutiny. Cf. Benham v. Edwards, 678 F.2d 511, 515-16, n. 9 (5th Cir.1982), but cf. United States v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 128, 132-36 Though we recognize some courts and commentators advocate......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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