Stewart v. Overholser, 10063.

Citation87 US App. DC 402,186 F.2d 339
Decision Date09 November 1950
Docket NumberNo. 10063.,10063.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Mr. Mallory R. Smith, Washington, D. C., (appointed by this court) for appellant. Mr. Mac Asbill, Jr., Washington, D. C., also entered an appearance for appellant.

Mr. Joseph F. Goetten, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Messrs. George Morris Fay, U. S. Atty. and Joseph M. Howard, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., were on the brief, for appellee. Messrs. John D. Lane, John J. O'Leary and L. Clark Ewing, Asst. U. S. Attys., all of Washington, D. C., also entered appearances for appellee.


FAHY, Circuit Judge.

A petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed in the District Court by Ray M. Stewart on August 23, 1948, alleging his illegal confinement at St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington by its Superintendent. The petition states he was confined because of alleged mental incompetency but that "he is of sound mind as he knows right from wrong." He also challenges the validity of his original commitment in 1932. A rule to show cause issued, to which the acting Superintendent filed a return admitting the restraint but denying its illegality. The return recites certain events in the life of petitioner before his commitment and sets forth earlier legal proceedings. These include his commitment in 1932 after a finding by the court that he was of unsound mind, and applications for writs of habeas corpus filed by him in 1932, 1933, 1937, and 1939. It also alleges that in April, 1944, and again on December 13, 1946, hearings were held in the District Court resulting in each instance in remand of Stewart to the custody of the Superintendent. Finally the return sets forth the opinion of respondent and of other members of the hospital staff skilled in the care, diagnosis and treatment of nervous and mental disorders that Stewart is of unsound mind, suffering from psychosis, paranoid type, with psychopathic personality, and would be dangerous to himself and others were he to be discharged into the community.

Upon consideration of the petition, rule to show cause and return, but without a hearing, the court entered an order on September 16, 1948, dismissing the petition and discharging the rule. The appeal is from this order. Since it was entered after September 1, 1948,1 the effective date of the new Judicial Code, we are of the opinion its provisions apply. In relevant part we set them forth.2 Our decision on the merits, however, would be the same were previous statutes relating to the writ thought to apply. We have considered also the statutes of the District of Columbia.3 Assuming them to be in effect, they too do not require a different result.

Preliminarily we also note the absence of doubt as to the appropriateness of the procedure of habeas corpus to test the legality of detention for alleged unsoundness of mind, including the challenge of continued detention because of the claim of restoration to sanity. Overholser v. Boddie, 87 U.S.App.D.C. ___, 184 F.2d 240. See, also, Ex parte Rosier, 1942, 76 U.S. App.D.C. 214, 223, 133 F.2d 316, 325 and 21 D.C.Code, § 325 (1940).

The controversy is over the question whether in the circumstances of this case the court erred in dismissing the petition and discharging the rule without a hearing on the question of sanity.4

The petition alleges that Stewart "is of sound mind." The addition of the explanatory words "as he knows right from wrong" does not convert this allegation into something less than one of soundness of mind. See Stephens, J., in Ex parte Rosier, 76 U.S.App.D.C. at page 224, 133 F.2d at page 326. This is so notwithstanding there may be some types of insanity accompanied with the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Skill and perfection in petitioner's method of alleging sanity is not required. Darr v. Burford, 1950, 339 U.S. 200, 203, 70 S.Ct. 587; Stephens, J., in Ex parte Rosier, 76 U.S.App.D.C. at pages 222, 224, 133 F.2d at pages 324, 326. See, also, Rule 8 (f), Fed.Rules Civ.Proc., 28 U.S.C.A. "* * * habeas corpus has long been regarded as a proceeding in which a liberal judicial attitude is peculiarly appropriate in view of the broadly remedial nature of the writ." Mercado v. United States, 1 Cir., 183 F.2d 486, 487. Furthermore, we may not construe the petitioner's words as failing to assert present sanity because he also attacks as illegal the previous adjudication to the contrary; for although he means to say he has always been sane it is also true that he means to say he is sane at the time he files the petition.

The return, in setting forth aspects of earlier personal conduct of petitioner, court proceedings which include his prior unsuccessful efforts to secure release, and opinions that petitioner remains of unsound mind, joins issue on the question of sanity.5 Recitations regarding the nature of his affliction and other details to which we have referred do not alter this situation.

When a factual issue is at the core of a detention challenged by an application for the writ it ordinarily must be resolved by the hearing process. This is a chief purpose of the habeas corpus procedure. "Nothing less will satisfy the command of the statute that the judge shall proceed `to determine the facts of the case, by hearing the testimony and arguments'.6 * * * The Government properly concedes that if the petition, the return, and the traverse raise substantial issues of fact it is the petitioner's right to have those issues heard and determined in the manner the statute prescribes. * * * denials only serve to make the issues which must be resolved by evidence taken in the usual way. * * *" Walker v. Johnston, 1941, 312 U.S. 275, at pages 285-287, 61 S.Ct. 574, 579, 85 L.Ed. 830. To similar effect are Holiday v. Johnston, 1941, 313 U.S. 342, 350, 550, 61 S.Ct. 1015, 85 L. Ed. 1392; Waley v. Johnston, 1942, 316 U. S. 101, 62 S.Ct. 964, 86 L.Ed. 1302; Cochran v. Kansas, 1942, 316 U.S. 255, 62 S. Ct. 1068, 86 L.Ed. 1453; and Von Moltke v. Gillies, 1948, 332 U.S. 708, 68 S.Ct. 316, 92 L.Ed. 309.

There is, however, another factor to be considered before we conclude finally that a hearing was required. The statutes now include a provision, enacted June 25, 1948, effective September 1, 1948, which reads as follows:

"No circuit or district judge shall be required to entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus to inquire into the detention of a person pursuant to a judgment of a court of the United States, or of any State, if it appears that the legality of such detention has been determined by a judge or court of the United States on a prior application for a writ of habeas corpus and the petition presents no new ground not theretofore presented and determined, and the judge or court is satisfied that the ends of justice will not be served by such inquiry." 28 U.S.C.A. § 2244.

It is not questioned that the legality of petitioner's detention had been determined in the court below on December 13, 1946, and in other proceedings prior thereto, as set forth in the return. Accordingly, unless some new ground was presented or he thought the ends of justice would be served by an inquiry even in the absence of new grounds the judge was not required to entertain the petition of August 23, 1948. This provision that a new inquiry is not mandatory when no new ground appears grew out of the practice which the courts had adopted. The notes in the revised code under § 2244 state: "This section makes no material change in existing practice. Notwithstanding the opportunity open to litigants to abuse the writ, the courts have consistently refused to entertain successive `nuisance' applications for habeas corpus." The decision of this court in Dorsey v. Gill, 1945, 80 U.S.App.D.C. 9, 148 F.2d 857, is referred to in the notes as illustrative of the practice. The rule had become established that issuance of the writ, and consequent hearing, should ordinarily be withheld in the exercise of a sound judicial discretion where there had been a prior decision on a like application adverse to the petitioner. This was deemed consistent with the provisions of Rev.Stat. § 761 then in effect that the party should be disposed of "as law and justice require." Salinger v. Loisel, 1924, 265 U.S. 224, 231, 44 S.Ct. 519, 521, 68 L.Ed. 989. See, also, Rookard v. Huff, 1944, 79 U.S.App.D.C. 291, 145 F.2d 708; Pope v. Huff, 1944, 79 U.S.App.D.C. 18, 141 F.2d 727. See Darr v. Burford, supra, 339 U.S. at pages 214-215, 70 S.Ct. 587. In the Rookard case the opinion in the Pope case is approvingly quoted as follows: "`Though the doctrine of res judicata does not apply to habeas corpus proceedings, the fact that the same issues have been decided in a former proceeding may, and sometimes should, as a matter of judicial discretion, be given controlling weight. * * *'" 79 U.S.App. D.C. 291, 145 F.2d 709. See, also, Beard v. Bennett, 1940, 72 App.D.C. 269, 114 F. 2d 578. These cases illustrate, though not explicitly, the distinction between applications for the writ by one imprisoned for crime and one detained in an institution because of mental incompetency. In the former the legality of the detention usually may be established with finality in one proceeding. Jurisdiction of the court, conduct of the trial, legality of sentence — these do not change, and having once been determined on adequate hearing are not new grounds when again brought forth in another application for the writ. But the situation now before us is different. A determination that Stewart was insane in December, 1946, did not determine his mental condition in August, 1948. In none of the cases to which we have referred as developing the practice which finds expression in § 2244 of the...

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