Dorsey v. Gill, 8811.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation148 F.2d 857,80 US App. DC 9
Docket NumberNo. 8811.,8811.
PartiesDORSEY v. GILL, General Superintendent, D. C. Penal Institutions.
Decision Date26 February 1945

80 US App. DC 9, 148 F.2d 857 (1945)

GILL, General Superintendent, D. C. Penal Institutions.

No. 8811.

United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia.

Decided February 26, 1945.

Writ of Certiorari Denied June 18, 1945.

148 F.2d 858
148 F.2d 859
148 F.2d 860
148 F.2d 861
Mr. John W. Cragun, of Washington, D. C. (appointed by this Court), for appellant

Mr. Charles B. Murray, Assistant United States Attorney, of Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Edward M. Curran, United States Attorney, of Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellee.

Before MILLER, EDGERTON, and ARNOLD, Associate Justices.

Writ of Certiorari Denied June 18, 1945. See 65 S.Ct. 1580.

MILLER, Associate Justice.

Appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, addressed to the District Court, was accompanied by a pauper's oath. The petition was permitted to be filed without prepayment of costs, but the writ was denied. Petitioner then requested reconsideration of the order or, in the alternative, leave to appeal as a pauper. The trial judge certified1 that the application was not in good faith and denied the request. Thereafter, petitioner, by a letter addressed to the Chief Justice of this Court, sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis, on appeal. We appointed counsel to prepare, in his behalf, a formal petition to be allowed to proceed in forma pauperis in order that we might give intelligent consideration to the question whether the certificate of the trial judge had been made without warrant.2 Counsel presented such a petition, together with a comprehensive and exhaustive memorandum in its support. We granted the petition.

On this appeal we are confronted with questions which affect, not only the rights of appellant, but the administration of habeas corpus generally. For centuries the writ has been regarded as a palladium of

148 F.2d 862
liberty.3 As early as 1670 it was characterized as "the most usual remedy by which a man is restored again to his liberty, if he have been against the law deprived of it."4 But even in its origin it was used as a potent weapon for other purposes; for example, in the struggle for supremacy between rival English courts,5 and in contests between powerful factions in government and politics.6

Today, in the District of Columbia, we find a similar contrast. Here, petitions for the writ are used not only as they should be to protect unfortunate persons against miscarriages of justice, but also as a device for harassing court, custodial and enforcement officers with a multiplicity of repetitious, meritless requests for relief. The most extreme example is that of a person who, between July 1939 and April 1944, presented in the District Court 50 petitions for writs of habeas corpus; another person has presented 27 petitions, a third 24, a fourth 22, a fifth 20. One hundred nineteen persons have presented 597 petitions — an average of 5. The extent of the problem is indicated by the table appended in the margin,7 which shows a growth of filings in the District Court from 32 in the fiscal year 1934 to 276 in 1944; and 101 petitions filed during the first four months of the fiscal year 1945 (July to October, inclusive, 1944). Moreover, it should be noted that the total of 635 petitions filed between July 1941 and October 1944 inclusive, does not include 180 petitions presented, but denied filing.8 The number has increased most rapidly during the last three years, since the Supreme Court's decision in Walker v. Johnston,9 and since one of

148 F.2d 863
the opinions filed in this Court in the Rosier case,10 admonished the District Court that: "Administrative inconvenience, even occasional abuse of the facilities of the courts, is but a small price to pay for the precious right of access to the courts guaranteed under our system of government to all who claim to be wronged." Italics supplied Thus, if all petitions presented during this period of three and one-third years had been filed and writs issued, as is the practice in some districts, the judges of the District Court would have been required to hold 815 hearings upon returns made, in each instance, by the custodial officers in whose control these persons were held

Although the problem seems to be more acute in the District of Columbia, the same situation is developing in other districts. Thus, for the fiscal year 1942,11 five districts, in which federal custodial institutions are located, reported 233 cases.12 The Supreme Court also is beginning to experience the impact of an increasing volume of appeals in habeas corpus cases.13

The situation in the District of Columbia is further complicated by the fact that St. Elizabeths, the great federal mental hospital, is located here. Of the petitions for writs of habeas corpus filed in the District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, approximately 44 per cent14 challenge insanity commitments. Moreover, there is already a foreshadowing of trouble in regard to insane persons in other districts. This is shown by the resolution, recently adopted by the Conference of Senior Circuit Judges,15 the preamble of which reads as follows: "It appearing from a study by the Bureau of Prisons that a

148 F.2d 864
considerable number of persons are being sentenced for federal offenses and sent to prison who, because of their insanity, should not have been convicted, and who, indeed, because of their mental incapacity to participate rationally in their defense, should never have been arraigned or brought to trial * * *." It is shown, also, by the sample set out in the margin concerning habeas corpus cases in the Western District of Missouri.16

These facts suggest the larger background against which the present case must be considered. Here is a problem of judicial administration which cannot be solved in a vacuum. On the one hand, it is necessary that the applicable statute shall be so interpreted as to preserve, in full vigor, this greatest of all safeguards against official oppression. On the other hand, it is necessary to give full meaning to all the language of the statute and thus to protect the writ from abuse.17 As the problem has been contributed to, largely, by our disposition of the Rosier case,18 we have now decided to restate the applicable law upon a broader base than would be necessary, otherwise, for decision of the present case. Preliminarily, we note that In re Rosier constitutes a statement of law by this Court only to the extent that two of the three opinions filed in that case coincide. To the extent that the decision in the Rosier case conflicts with our decision in the present case, it is overruled.

So far as concerns the numerous petitions for habeas corpus filed by inmates of St. Elizabeths Hospital, we have outlined, in recent cases,19 the procedure which should be followed — to the extent that it differs from or supplements procedure generally applicable in habeas corpus cases.20 Briefly summarized, it is as follows: 1 Habeas corpus is available, not for the purpose of determining a petitioner's mental condition, but, instead, as a

148 F.2d 865
method of initiating an appropriate procedure for that purpose;21 2 if the original commitment was made under a statute which authorizes the detention of insane persons in military service upon order of a military authority,22 and the judge, to whom the petition is presented, is satisfied that a sufficient showing of present sanity is made, he should order that the petitioner be released unless, within a reasonable time specified, the proper military authority orders his recommitment;23 3 if the original commitment was of a civilian, and was made without a judicial determination of his mental condition, the judge should order that the petitioner be released unless, within a reasonable time specified, a proper proceeding shall have been commenced to secure such a judicial determination;24 4 if such a proceeding was originally commenced but was not properly carried out and, if the judge, to whom the petition is presented, is satisfied that, as a consequence, the petitioner was improperly committed, he should order that the proceedings be reopened and a proper determination made of petitioner's present mental condition;25 5 if a petitioner was originally committed in a proceeding, properly commenced and carried out, but the judge, to whom the petition for habeas corpus is presented, is satisfied that a sufficient showing of present sanity has been made, he should, in this case, also, order that the proceedings be reopened and a re-examination made to determine the petitioner's present mental condition.26 In no case of a person held in St. Elizabeths because of insanity should a judge order his release, unconditionally, in a habeas corpus proceeding. It would be as unwise to discharge such a person, without a scientific investigation, as it would be intolerable to compel the continued confinement of a person whose sanity has been restored. How frequently such re-examinations should be required must depend, in each case, upon the petition presented, the type of insanity for which the petitioner was originally committed, the time elapsed since the last inquiry and other considerations upon the record, of which the judge is required to take judicial notice

From whatever source the petition may come, it is the duty of the judge to whom it is presented, carefully, to consider it.27 For this purpose, the petition should not be scrutinized with technical nicety;28 nor the duty discharged as a mere matter of routine.29 Nevertheless, it is as much the duty of the judge to deny leave to file an insufficient petition, or to deny a writ upon an insufficient petition, already filed, as it is his duty to grant a writ upon a sufficient petition. Having considered the petition, the judge should adopt whichever alternative procedure, available under the...

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