State v. Westcott, 90-464

Decision Date09 October 1991
Docket NumberNo. 90-464,90-464
Citation134 N.H. 692,597 A.2d 1072
PartiesThe STATE of New Hampshire v. Jeffrey WESTCOTT.
CourtNew Hampshire Supreme Court

John P. Arnold, Atty. Gen. (Daniel J. Mullen, Asst. Atty. Gen., on the brief and orally), for State.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance, Manchester (Elliott Berry, on the brief and orally), for defendant.

HORTON, Justice.

The defendant appeals an order of the Superior Court (Manias, J.) recommitting him to the psychiatric acute care facility of the New Hampshire Hospital. He argues that, although the trial court did not err in ordering him recommitted, it was nonetheless error for the court not to approve his transfer to the transitional housing service ("THS"), a less-restrictive facility located on the grounds of the New Hampshire Hospital. He further maintains that it was likewise error to refuse to expand his level of patient privileges, in the face of medical evidence that such a treatment plan would be clinically appropriate for the defendant and would provide adequate monitoring of his condition. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the trial court's decision.

In 1979, the defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the drowning death of his three-year-old son. He was thereafter committed to the New Hampshire Hospital where, save for a brief administrative transfer of no consequence to this opinion, he has remained for over eleven years.

In 1990, the State moved for recommittal pursuant to RSA 651:11-a, I. A summary of the evidence presented during the July, 1990 two-day hearing on this motion highlights the defendant's contention in this appeal. At the time of the recommittal hearing, the defendant's prescribed treatment involved a monitored daily regimen of tegretol and lithium to control his disorder; failure to adhere to this regimen may result in "decompensation," a relapse into a disturbed mental state. Although he resided in the psychiatric acute care facility at the time of the hearing, the defendant was allowed unescorted building privileges from approximately 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m., two hours of unescorted off-grounds privileges per day, and ten hours of escorted grounds privileges per week. Earlier, between 1983 and 1984, the defendant had enjoyed extensive off-grounds privileges, which included his access to his own apartment and automobile. While he appears never to have abused these privileges, he decompensated twice during this period. In the latter of these two episodes, the defendant had to be involuntarily medicated because of the threat he posed to himself and to the hospital staff. There were also several incidents involving denial behavior, psychotic delusions, and mild decompensation between 1987 and 1990.

One of the witnesses at the July, 1990 hearing, the director of the department of corrections' division of medical and forensic services, evaluated the defendant in May, 1990 and testified that the defendant had difficulty admitting to his condition and recognizing the onset of decompensation. The director also provided the court with general evidence concerning the effects of the defendant's bipolar disorder, including the tendency of patients with this condition to stray from medication. It was his opinion that without supervision the defendant might not take his medication, and without his medication, the defendant might commit crimes. Like the other medical expert witnesses, however, the director supported placing the defendant in THS because he believed the supervision in that facility would be adequate, and he gave his opinion that such a transfer would not pose a threat to the public. Other medical expert testimony suggested that the defendant, despite the undisputed need for daily, supervised, psychotropic medication, is clinically stable.

Following the trial, the court issued an order stating that "the history of the defendant's behavior during his commitment demonstrates his and the community's need for the safeguards his present supervised setting [i.e., the acute care psychiatric ward] provides." The court found that the "restrictions imposed by the defendant's present residence are appropriate in view of his mental disorder and the concerns of the statute and that a less restrictive alternative is neither appropriate nor required." Accordingly, it ordered the defendant recommitted and refused to approve the gradual release transitional plan offered by the defendant.

The present appeal stems from this refusal to approve the defendant's proposed plan. The plan included both a transfer to the less-restrictive setting of THS and a schedule which would have gradually increased the defendant's on- and off-grounds privileges. The defendant argues on appeal that the trial court abused its discretion and erred in failing to heed the unanimous opinions of the medical experts, each of whom gave his or her opinion that, although unconditional release of this defendant into the general community would not be prudent, the proposed...

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3 cases
  • State v. Pike
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • October 9, 1991
  • Ethan H., In re
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • June 25, 1992
    ...superior court's findings "unless they are unsupported by the evidence or are erroneous as a matter of law." State v. Westcott, 134 N.H. 692, 695, 597 A.2d 1072, 1075, (1991). Upon reviewing the evidence presented at both the 1988 and 1990 hearings, we conclude that the superior court's fin......
  • Fitz v. Coutinho
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • March 11, 1993
    ...on whether a party performed in a substandard manner, unless the finding lacks support in the record. See State v. Westcott, 134 N.H. 692, 695, 597 A.2d 1072, 1075 (1991); Bishop v. Martineau Plumbing & Heating Co., 117 N.H. 524, 524, 375 A.2d 594, 594 (1977). The evidence on whether the lo......

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