Davis, In re

Decision Date07 February 1973
Docket Number16513 and 16530,Cr. 16512
Citation8 Cal.3d 798,106 Cal.Rptr. 178,505 P.2d 1018
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 505 P.2d 1018 In re Eugene Tyrone DAVIS on Habeas Corpus. In re Howard H. COWAN, Jr., on Habeas Corpus. In re Frank Robert PALMA on Habeas Corpus. (Consolidated Cases.) In Bank

Richard S. Buckley, Public Defender, Los Angeles, John J. Gibbons, Richard O. Burton, David H. Guthman and Laurance S. Smith, Deputy Public Defenders, and Robert G. Eckhoff, Public Defender, Santa Barbara, for petitioners.

Evelle J. Younger, Atty. Gen., Edward A. Hinz, Jr., Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Doris H. Maier, Asst. Atty. Gen., Edward T. Fogel, Jr., and Alan G. Novodor, Deputy Attys. Gen., for respondents.

BURKE, Justice.

In these consolidated cases we are called upon to review the constitutionality of the procedures (Pen.Code, § 1367 et seq.) for the commitment to, and release from, state hospital of defendants in criminal cases who have been found to lack sufficient mental competence to stand trial. 1 Al though we have concluded that petitioners' initial commitments were proper, we acknowledge that some provision must be made to assure that petitioners do not face an indefinite commitment without regard to the likelihood that they will eventually regain their competence, for such an indefinite commitment has been held to offend constitutional principles of equal protection and due process. (Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435.) Accordingly, we adopt the rule of the Jackson case that no person charged with a criminal offense and committed to state hospital solely on account of his incapacity to proceed to trial may be so confined more than a reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial likelihood that he will recover that capacity in the foreseeable future. Unless such a showing of probable recovery is made within this period, defendant must either be released or recommitted under alternative commitment procedures.

The three petitioners now before us are each accused of misdemeanor offenses. Petitioner Cowan was arrested on July 25, 1972, for disturbing the peace (Pen.Code, § 415) and assault (Pen.Code, § 240). On August 15, the municipal court on its own motion suspended further proceedings and certified Cowan to the superior court for a sanity hearing, based upon its doubts as to Cowan's present sanity. 2 Over Cowan's objection, two psychiatrists were appointed to examine him, a sanity hearing was held, and, on August 17, Cowan was adjudged 'insane' within the meaning of Penal Code section 1368. The court ordered Cowan committed to Camarillo State Hospital, where he remains. 3

Petitioner Davis was arrested on June 6, 1972, and charged with disorderly conduct (Pen.Code, § 647, subd. (i)). As in the case of petitioner Cowan, prior to trial the municipal court suspended proceedings on its own motion and certified Davis to the superior court which, on June 12, following a sanity hearing to which Davis objected, found him 'insane' and committed him to Camarillo, where he remains.

Petitioner Palma was arrested on May 29, 1972, on a charge of misdemeanor battery (Pen.Code, § 242). On July 25, following certification to the superior court, a jury found him 'insane' and the court committed him to Atascadero State Hospital, where he remains.

Petitioners have requested writs of habeas corpus to secure their release, contending that, for various reasons, their commitment was or has become invalid. We reject the contention that the initial commitments were totally void, for the trial courts unquestionably had authority to commit petitioners, over their objection, once they were found incompetent to stand trial. Moreover, petitioners are not entitled to immediate release from confinement for they have not established, nor do they allege, either that they are now competent to stand trial or that no substantial likelihood exists that they will soon recover their competence. On the other hand, petitioners are entitled, under Jackson, to a prompt determination by state hospital authorities regarding the probability of their ultimate recovery, as indicated below.

1. Jackson v. Indiana

The petitioner in Jackson v. Indiana, Supra, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435, was a mentally defective deaf mute who had been charged with committing two robberies in July 1967. Under Indiana procedure, comparable to California's system, a hearing was held to determine petitioner's capacity to stand trial. The report of the examining doctors concluded that Jackson's inability to hear or communicate, coupled with his mental deficiency, left him unable to understand the nature of the charges against him or to participate in his defense. The doctors had grave doubts that Jackson would ever develop the necessary communicative skills to enable him to regain the capacity to stand trial. Accordingly, the court ordered Jackson committed to the state department of mental health until such time as the department should certify that Jackson is 'sane.' By the time the case was decided by the United States Supreme Court, Jackson had been committed for three and one-half years.

The court concluded that, in light of the evidence indicating that Jackson would never regain his competence, he faced an indefinite commitment void under constitutional principles of equal protection and due process. The court noted that under Indiana law, but for the pendency of unproved criminal charges, Jackson could not be so committed, at least without a showing that he was dangerous to others or unable to care for himself. Moreover, the court explained, persons civilly committed in Indiana may obtain their release once they no longer require custodial care, whereas Jackson may not be released until he regains his competence to stand trial, a standard not necessarily related to his need for care or treatment. Accordingly, the court held that by holding Jackson to both a more lenient commitment standard and a more stringent release standard than applicable to persons not charged with criminal offenses, Indiana's procedure denied Jackson equal protection of the laws. (See Baxtrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620.) As the court explained, 'If criminal conviction and imposition of sentence are insufficient to justify less procedural and substantive protection against indefinite commitment than that generally available to all others (as was held in Baxstrom, supra), the mere filing of criminal charges surely cannot suffice.' (406 U.S. at p. 724, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1851.)

Further, the court determined that Jackson's indefinite commitment violated due process, for it was not supported by any of the various justifications requisite to an extended commitment of mentally ill persons, namely, 'dangerousness to self, dangerousness to others, and the need for care or treatment or training.' (Id. at p. 737, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1857.) As the court stated, 'At the least, due process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed.' (Id. at p. 738, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1858.) Jackson was committed for the purpose of enabling him to regain his competence to stand trial, yet the record established that this purpose was not being, and probably never would be, achieved.

Accordingly, the court adopted the so-called 'rule of reasonableness' of the lower federal courts (see United States v. Curry (4th Cir.), 410 F.2d 1372, 1374; United States v. Walker (N.D.Cal.), 335 F.Supp. 705, 708--709), and declared: 'We hold, consequently, that a person charged by a State with a criminal offense who is committed solely on account of his incapacity to proceed to trial cannot be held more than the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain that capacity in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that this is not the case, then the State must either institute the customary civil commitment proceeding that would be required to commit indefinitely any other citizen, or release the defendant. (Fn. omitted.) Furthermore, even if it is determined that the defendant probably soon will be able to stand trial, his continued commitment must be justified by progress toward that goal. In light of differing state facilities and procedures and a lack of evidence in this record, we do not think it appropriate for us to attempt to prescribe arbitrary time limits.' (406 U.S. at p. 738, 92 S.Ct. at p. 1858; see also McNeil v. Director, Patuxent Institution, 407 U.S. 245, 92 S.Ct. 2083, 32 L.Ed.2d 719 (invalid, indefinite commitment 'for observation' of convicted felon).)

The court rejected Jackson's contention that the pending criminal charges against him should be ordered dismissed because he was denied a speedy trial or because his indefinite commitment denied him due process. The court noted that these issues had not been presented to, or ruled upon by, the Indiana courts in the prior proceedings. The court also noted the possibility that Jackson might, under appropriate Indiana procedure, be permitted to raise certain defenses such as insufficiency of the indictment, or make certain pretrial motions, through counsel even though Jackson himself remains incompetent. The case was accordingly remanded to the state courts for further proceedings.

In view of the similarities between California and Indiana procedure, it seems evident that we must adopt Jackson's 'rule of reasonableness' in order to comply with the constitutional principles which controlled that case. As in Indiana, the standards for commitment and release of persons sought to be civilly committed in this state are significantly different than those prescribed by Penal Code sections 1367 et seq., for persons found to be incompetent to stand trial. (See Welf. & Inst. Code, § 5000 et seq.; Thorn v. Superior Court, 1...

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