From Casetext: Smarter Legal Research

Baxstrom v. Herold

U.S.
Feb 23, 1966
383 U.S. 107 (1966)

Summary

holding that the petitioner was deprived of equal protection of the laws because “there [was] no conceivable basis” for the statutory distinction between two different groups of mentally ill individuals

Summary of this case from Seeboth v. Allenby

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK.

No. 219.

Argued December 9, 1965. Decided February 23, 1966.

Petitioner, while a prisoner, was certified as insane by a prison physician and transferred to Dannemora State Hospital, an institution under the jurisdiction of the New York Department of Correction and used for prisoners declared mentally ill while serving sentence. Dannemora's director filed a petition in the Surrogate's Court stating that petitioner's sentence was expiring and requesting that he be civilly committed under § 384 of the N.Y. Correction Law. At the proceeding the State submitted medical evidence that petitioner was still mentally ill and in need of hospital care. The Surrogate stated that he had no objection to petitioner's transfer to a civil hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene, but that under § 384 that decision was up to the latter Department. That Department had determined ex parte that petitioner was not suitable for care in a civil hospital. When petitioner's sentence expired his custody shifted to the Department of Mental Hygiene but he has since remained at Dannemora. Writs of habeas corpus in state courts were dismissed and petitioner's request that he be transferred to a civil hospital was denied as beyond the court's power. Held: Petitioner was denied equal protection of the laws by the statutory procedure whereby a person may be civilly committed at the expiration of a prison sentence without the jury review available to all others civilly committed in New York, and by his commitment to an institution maintained by the Department of Correction beyond the expiration of his prison term without the judicial determination that he is dangerously mentally ill such as that afforded to all those so committed except those nearing the end of a penal sentence. Pp. 110-115.

Judgment of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court of New York, Third Judicial Department, 21 A.D.2d 754, reversed and remanded to that court.

Leon B. Polsky argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner. Anthony J. Lokot, Assistant Attorney General of New York, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Louis J. Lefkowitz, Attorney General of New York, and Ruth Kessler Toch, Acting Solicitor General.


We granted certiorari in this case to consider the constitutional validity of the statutory procedure under which petitioner was committed to a mental institution at the expiration of his criminal sentence in a state prison.

Petitioner, Johnnie K. Baxstrom, was convicted of second degree assault in April 1959 and was sentenced to a term of two and one-half to three years in a New York prison. On June 1, 1961, he was certified as insane by a prison physician. He was then transferred from prison to Dannemora State Hospital, an institution under the jurisdiction and control of the New York Department of Correction and used for the purpose of confining and caring for male prisoners declared mentally ill while serving a criminal sentence. In November 1961, the director of Dannemora filed a petition in the Surrogate's Court of Clinton County stating that Baxstrom's penal sentence was about to terminate and requesting that he be civilly committed pursuant to § 384 of the New York Correction Law.

On December 6, 1961, a proceeding was held in the Surrogate's chambers. Medical certificates were submitted by the State which stated that, in the opinion of two of its examining physicians, Baxstrom was still mentally ill and in need of hospital and institutional care. Respondent, then assistant director at Dannemora, testified that in his opinion Baxstrom was still mentally ill. Baxstrom, appearing alone, was accorded a brief opportunity to ask questions. Respondent and the Surrogate both stated that they had no objection to his being transferred from Dannemora to a civil hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene. But the Surrogate pointed out that he had no jurisdiction to determine that question — that under § 384 the decision was entirely up to the Department of Mental Hygiene. The Surrogate then signed a certificate which indicated he was satisfied that Baxstrom "may require mental care and treatment" in an institution for the mentally ill. The Department of Mental Hygiene had already determined ex parte that Baxstrom was not suitable for care in a civil hospital. Thus, on December 18, 1961, the date upon which Baxstrom's penal sentence expired, custody over him shifted from the Department of Correction to the Department of Mental Hygiene, but he was retained at Dannemora and has remained there to this date.

The State apparently permits counsel to be retained in such proceedings where the person can afford to hire his own attorney despite the fact that § 384 makes no provision for counsel to be present. See 1961 Op. N.Y. Atty. Gen. 180, 181. Baxstrom is indigent, however, and had no counsel at this hearing.

Thereafter, Baxstrom sought a writ of habeas corpus in a state court. An examination by an independent psychiatrist was ordered and a hearing was held at which the examining psychiatrist testified that, in his opinion, Baxstrom was still mentally ill. The writ was dismissed. In 1963, Baxstrom applied again for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his constitutional rights had been violated and that he was then sane, or if insane, he should be transferred to a civil mental hospital. Due to his indigence and his incarceration in Dannemora, Baxstrom could not produce psychiatric testimony to disprove the testimony adduced at the prior hearing. The writ was therefore dismissed. Baxstrom's alternative request for transfer to a civil mental hospital was again denied as being beyond the power of the court despite a statement by the State's attorney that he wished that Baxstrom would be transferred to a civil mental hospital. On appeal to the Appellate Division, Third Department, the dismissal of the writ was affirmed without opinion. 21 A.D.2d 754. A motion for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals was denied. 14 N.Y.2d 490. We granted certiorari. 381 U.S. 949.

We hold that petitioner was denied equal protection of the laws by the statutory procedure under which a person may be civilly committed at the expiration of his penal sentence without the jury review available to all other persons civilly committed in New York. Petitioner was further denied equal protection of the laws by his civil commitment to an institution maintained by the Department of Correction beyond the expiration of his prison term without a judicial determination that he is dangerously mentally ill such as that afforded to all so committed except those, like Baxstrom, nearing the expiration of a penal sentence.

Section 384 of the New York Correction Law prescribes the procedure for civil commitment upon the expiration of the prison term of a mentally ill person confined in Dannemora. Similar procedures are prescribed for civil commitment of all other allegedly mentally ill persons. N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law §§ 70, 72. All persons civilly committed, however, other than those committed at the expiration of a penal term, are expressly granted the right to de novo review by jury trial of the question of their sanity under § 74 of the Mental Hygiene Law. Under this procedure any person dissatisfied with an order certifying him as mentally ill may demand full review by a jury of the prior determination as to his competency. If the jury returns a verdict that the person is sane, he must be immediately discharged. It follows that the State, having made this substantial review proceeding generally available on this issue, may not, consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, arbitrarily withhold it from some.

As it appeared when applied to petitioner in 1961, N.Y. Correction Law § 384 provided in part: "1. Within thirty days prior to the expiration of the term of a prisoner confined in the Dannemora state hospital, when in the opinion of the director such prisoner continues insane, the director shall apply to a judge of a court of record for the certification of such person as provided in the mental hygiene law for the certification of a person not in confinement on a criminal charge. The court in which such proceedings are instituted shall if satisfied that such person may require care and treatment in an institution for the mentally ill, issue an order directing that such person be committed to the custody of the commissioner of mental hygiene to be placed in an appropriate state institution of the department of mental hygiene or of the department of correction as may be designated for the custody of such person by agreement between the heads of the two departments."

The director contends that the State has created a reasonable classification differentiating the civilly insane from the "criminally insane," which he defines as those with dangerous or criminal propensities. Equal protection does not require that all persons be dealt with identically, but it does require that a distinction made have some relevance to the purpose for which the classification is made. Walters v. City of St. Louis, 347 U.S. 231, 237. Classification of mentally ill persons as either insane or dangerously insane of course may be a reasonable distinction for purposes of determining the type of custodial or medical care to be given, but it has no relevance whatever in the context of the opportunity to show whether a person is mentally ill at all. For purposes of granting judicial review before a jury of the question whether a person is mentally ill and in need of institutionalization, there is no conceivable basis for distinguishing the commitment of a person who is nearing the end of a penal term from all other civil commitments.

The statutory procedure provided in § 384 of the New York Correction Law denied Baxstrom the equal protection of the laws in another respect as well. Under § 384 the judge need only satisfy himself that the person "may require care and treatment in an institution for the mentally ill." Having made such a finding, the decision whether to commit that person to a hospital maintained by the Department of Correction or to a civil hospital is completely in the hands of administrative officials. Except for persons committed to Dannemora upon expiration of sentence under § 384, all others civilly committed to hospitals maintained by the Department of Correction are committed only after judicial proceedings have been held in which it is determined that the person is so dangerously mentally ill that his presence in a civil hospital is dangerous to the safety of other patients or employees, or to the community.

In this case, the administrative decision to retain Baxstrom in Dannemora was made before any hearing was afforded to Baxstrom and was made despite the otherwise unanimous conclusion by testifying psychiatrists, including an independent examining psychiatrist and respondent himself, that there was no reason why Baxstrom could not be transferred to a civil institution. The following is a portion of the transcript of the hearing before the Surrogate: "The COURT: (Addressing Dr. Herold) Have you any objection if this man is transferred to a civil hospital if the Department of Mental Hygiene so decrees? "Dr. HEROLD: None whatever. "The COURT: And I, Sir, agree with you. I have no objection to his transfer if the Department of Mental Hygiene so finds. "I hope that you will be transferred to a civil hospital. "Good luck." And at the first habeas corpus hearing: "Q. Do you feel, Doctor, from your examination and examining the records of this man, he needs additional care? Is that correct? "A. [Dr. Kerr] Yes, sir. May I say something at this point, sir? "Q. Surely. "A. Since Mr. Baxstrom's sentence has actually expired, sir, I would like to say that in my opinion there is no reason why he could not be treated in a civil mental hospital. I would simply like to say that for the record, sir. "The COURT: All right."

N.Y. Mental Hygiene Law §§ 85, 135. See also N.Y. Code Crim. Proc. §§ 662-b (3)(b), 872(1)(b), as amended, N.Y. Laws 1965, c. 540, §§ 1, 2. Former § 412 of Correction Law, permitting commitment to Matteawan State Hospital of any patient who had previously been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, without the benefit of the proceeding accorded others under § 85 of the Mental Hygiene Law, was held unconstitutional as a denial of equal protection in United States ex rel. Carroll v. McNeill, 294 F.2d 117 (C.A. 2d Cir. 1961), probable jurisdiction noted, 368 U.S. 951, vacated and dismissed as moot, 369 U.S. 149, and was repealed by N.Y. Laws 1965, c. 524. Even that provision required a showing that the person still manifested criminal tendencies.

This statutory classification cannot be justified by the contention that Dannemora is substantially similar to other mental hospitals in the State and that commitment to one hospital or another is simply an administrative matter affecting no fundamental rights. The parties have described various characteristics of Dannemora to show its similarities and dissimilarities to civil hospitals in New York. As striking as the dissimilarities are, we need not make any factual determination as to the nature of Dannemora; the New York State Legislature has already made that determination. By statute, the hospital is under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction and is used for the purpose of confining and caring for insane prisoners and persons, like Baxstrom, committed at the expiration of a penal term. N.Y. Correction Law § 375. Civil mental hospitals in New York, on the other hand, are under the jurisdiction and control of the Department of Mental Hygiene. Certain privileges of patients at Dannemora are restricted by statute. N.Y. Correction Law § 388. Moreover, as has been noted, specialized statutory procedures are prescribed for commitment to hospitals under the jurisdiction of the Department of Correction. While we may assume that transfer among like mental hospitals is a purely administrative function, where, as here, the State has created functionally distinct institutions, classification of patients for involuntary commitment to one of these institutions may not be wholly arbitrary.

The director argues that it is reasonable to classify persons in Baxstrom's class together with those found to be dangerously insane since such persons are not only insane but have proven criminal tendencies as shown by their past criminal records. He points to decisions of the New York Court of Appeals supporting this view. People ex rel. Kamisaroff v. Johnston, 13 N.Y.2d 66, 192 N.E.2d 11; People ex rel. Brunson v. Johnston, 15 N.Y.2d 647, 204 N.E.2d 200.

We find this contention untenable. Where the State has provided for a judicial proceeding to determine the dangerous propensities of all others civilly committed to an institution of the Department of Correction, it may not deny this right to a person in Baxstrom's position solely on the ground that he was nearing the expiration of a prison term. It may or may not be that Baxstrom is presently mentally ill and such a danger to others that the strict security of a Department of Correction hospital is warranted. All others receive a judicial hearing on this issue. Equal protection demands that Baxstrom receive the same.

In oral argument, counsel for respondent suggested that the determination by the Department of Mental Hygiene to retain a person in Dannemora must be based not only on his past criminal record, but also on evidence that he is currently dangerous. Far from supporting the validity of the procedure, this only serves to further accent the arbitrary nature of the classification. Under this procedure, all civil commitments to an institution under the control of the Department of Correction require a determination that the person is presently dangerous; all persons so committed are entitled to a judicial proceeding to determine this fact except those awaiting expiration of sentence. Their fate is decided by unreviewable determinations of the Department of Mental Hygiene.

The capriciousness of the classification employed by the State is thrown sharply into focus by the fact that the full benefit of a judicial hearing to determine dangerous tendencies is withheld only in the case of civil commitment of one awaiting expiration of penal sentence. A person with a past criminal record is presently entitled to a hearing on the question whether he is dangerously mentally ill so long as he is not in prison at the time civil commitment proceedings are instituted. Given this distinction, all semblance of rationality of the classification, purportedly based upon criminal propensities, disappears.

In order to accord to petitioner the equal protection of the laws, he was and is entitled to a review of the determination as to his sanity in conformity with proceedings granted all others civilly committed under § 74 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law. He is also entitled to a hearing under the procedure granted all others by § 85 of the New York Mental Hygiene Law to determine whether he is so dangerously mentally ill that he must remain in a hospital maintained by the Department of Correction. The judgment of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, in the Third Judicial Department of New York is reversed and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK concurs in the result.


Summaries of

Baxstrom v. Herold

U.S.
Feb 23, 1966
383 U.S. 107 (1966)

holding that the petitioner was deprived of equal protection of the laws because “there [was] no conceivable basis” for the statutory distinction between two different groups of mentally ill individuals

Summary of this case from Seeboth v. Allenby

holding that petitioner "was denied equal protection of the laws by the statutory procedure under which a person may be civilly committed at the expiration of his penal sentence without the jury review available to all other persons civilly committed in New York"

Summary of this case from Ernst J. v. Stone

holding that the denial of a jury trial to determine continued commitment available to other civil committees constituted a denial of equal protection

Summary of this case from Naylor v. Ahlin

holding that a state cannot continue to deprive a convicted criminal nearing the end of his penal term of his liberty without first committing him civilly

Summary of this case from Matter of Linehan

finding no “semblance of rationality” for New York statutory scheme that treated prisoners differently than all others civilly committed, namely by providing the latter with jury review for commitment as well as a judicial hearing for determination of whether the detainee was so dangerously ill that he needed to be held in the Department of Correction hospital

Summary of this case from United States v. Timms

denying a criminally insane person the right to a jury review of his commitment at the expiration of the underlying penal term, while providing that procedure to those civilly committed, violates equal protection

Summary of this case from In re Kolocotronis

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 (1966), the Court held that a state prisoner civilly committed at the end of his prison sentence on the finding of a surrogate was denied equal protection when he was deprived of a jury trial that the State made generally available to all other persons civilly committed.

Summary of this case from Jackson v. Indiana

In Baxstrom, substantially the same argument was advanced by a convicted prisoner who was committed under New York law for compulsory treatment, without a jury trial, at the expiration of his penal sentence.

Summary of this case from Humphrey v. Cady

applying rational-basis test to differential treatment between the civilly and criminally insane

Summary of this case from Williams v. Meyer

In Baxstrom, the Court held that a prisoner who was committed to a psychiatric facility at the expiration of his criminal sentence in a state prison was denied equal protection of the laws when he was subjected to civil commitment under a special procedure applicable only to prisoners, rather than to the procedures used for civil commitment of other, similarly-situated persons.

Summary of this case from Ernst J. v. Stone

In Baxstrom, the Court invalidated as a denial of equal protection a New York statute that permitted involuntary commitment at the expiration of a prison sentence without a finding of dangerousness or jury review as required for all other civil commitments in New York. 383 U.S. at 110, 86 S.Ct. at 762.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Sahhar

In Baxstrom, a former prisoner released from prison the day before his commitment was entitled to have a judge decide whether he should be sent to a maximum security hospital; the hospital assignment of a prisoner committed on the last day of his sentence was left entirely to the discretion of administrative officials.

Summary of this case from Benham v. Edwards

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620 (1966), the Supreme Court held that a state prisoner was denied equal protection of the law when he was committed at the termination of his prison sentence without the benefit of a jury trial which is available to other persons civilly committed.

Summary of this case from Jackson v. Foti

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620 (1966), the Supreme Court held that the equal protection clause bars a state from committing a prisoner who is nearing the end of his term to a mental institution without affording him a hearing similar to the hearing necessary for involuntary civil commitment of the mentally ill. Later the Court recognized with apparent approval that the Baxstrom principle had been extended by lower courts to commitment following an insanity acquittal.

Summary of this case from Dorsey v. Solomon

In Baxstrom the Court held that New York cannot commit a prisoner to a mental institution at the end of his prison sentence on the finding of a surrogate judge when the state makes a jury trial available to all other persons civilly committed.

Summary of this case from Powell v. State of Florida

In Baxstrom a prisoner whose sentence had almost expired was committed to a state mental institution according to statutory procedures different than those applied to other persons civilly committed.

Summary of this case from United States v. Ecker

In Baxstrom a denial of equal protection was found when the state statutory procedure permitted a person nearing the end of a prison term to be civilly committed without the benefit of jury review of a determination of insanity to which all other persons civilly committed were entitled. Different treatment might be justified according to whether a person was found either insane or dangerously insane, but there could be no justification for denying jury review of "whether a person is mentally ill at all."

Summary of this case from United States ex Rel. Murray v. Owens

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 113, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620 (1964), the Supreme Court took note of the "striking" dissimilarities between Dannemora — the New York hospital for the "criminally insane" — and New York's "civil" hospitals.

Summary of this case from Covington v. Harris

In Baxstrom, it was improperly presumed that one nearing the end of a prison sentence and who had proven criminal tendencies by virtue of past criminal conduct was too dangerous for a civil mental hospital.

Summary of this case from Shone v. State of Maine

In Baxstrom, the Court held that a state could not require convicts nearing the end of a prison term to submit to a summary civil commitment procedure while granting all other persons the right to a jury trial.Baxstrom is perhaps more easily distinguishable since the legislature had devised a system for civil commitment for non-convicts, and there was no rational basis for excepting convicts approaching the end of their prison term. Here we have a system which applies only to those convicted of a sexual offense, § 4, and convicts, — 6.

Summary of this case from Peterson v. Gaughan

stating that there was no "semblance of rationality" as to a civil commitment statute's distinctions

Summary of this case from Hung Nam Tran v. McCulloch

In Baxstrom, the issue was whether the petitioner's equal protection rights were violated by a statutory procedure under which a person can be civilly committed at the expiration of his penal sentence without the jury review available to all other persons civilly committed in New York. The Supreme Court determined that the petitioner's equal protection rights were violated by such a provision.

Summary of this case from Seeboth v. Mayberg

evaluating civil commitment statute to determine whether its classifications were "arbitrary"

Summary of this case from Russ v. Ahlin

invalidating a New York civil commitment statute on equal protection grounds that treated differently individuals nearing the end of a penal sentence from individuals who were not incarcerated

Summary of this case from United States v. Timms

In Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107, 86 S.Ct. 760, 15 L.Ed.2d 620 (1966), the Supreme Court held that a state violates equal protection by civilly committing a prisoner at the expiration of a penal term of incarceration without providing the same procedures as those provided for civil commitment of a person who is not completing a prison sentence.

Summary of this case from Wood v. Main
Case details for

Baxstrom v. Herold

Case Details

Full title:BAXSTROM v . HEROLD, STATE HOSPITAL DIRECTOR

Court:U.S.

Date published: Feb 23, 1966

Citations

383 U.S. 107 (1966)
86 S. Ct. 760

Citing Cases

Benham v. Edwards

Gunther, supra, at 22, 31. See Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435 (1972);…

United States v. Timms

A. Equal ProtectionIn holding that § 4248 deprived Timms, and others similarly situated, of equal protection…