Foucha v. Louisiana

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No. 90-5844
504 U.S. 71; 112 S. Ct. 1780; 118 L. Ed. 2d 437; 1992 U.S.
November 4, 1991, Argued
May 18, 1992, Decided


DISPOSITION: 563 So. 2d 1138, reversed.
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DECISION: Louisiana statute, permitting indefinite detention of insanity acquittees who are not mentally ill but who do not prove they would not be dangerous, held to violate Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause.

SUMMARY: A criminal defendant was found by a Louisiana trial court to have been insane at the time of the offense, and accordingly the court ruled that he was not guilty by reason of insanity. The person was committed to a psychiatric facility until such time as doctors recommended that he be released, and until further order of the court. When the superintendent of the facility and a three-member panel at the facility recommended that the person be conditionally discharged, the trial judge appointed a commission of two doctors, who reported that the person was in remission from mental illness, but that he had an antisocial personality, and that this condition was not a mental disease but was untreatable. One of the doctors testified that the person had been involved in several altercations at the facility and that the doctor would not feel comfortable in certifying that the person would not be a danger to himself or to other people. After it was stipulated that the other doctor would have given essentially the same testimony, the court ruled that the person was dangerous to himself and to others and ordered him returned to the facility. The Court of Appeals of Louisiana refused supervisory writs. The Supreme Court of Louisiana, affirming, held that (1) neither the due process clause nor the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment was violated by a Louisiana statutory provision under which an insanity acquittee who has been committed to a mental hospital, but whose release from the hospital has been recommended by a hospital review panel, may be returned to the hospital after a court hearing, regardless of whether the acquittee is then mentally ill, if the acquittee fails to prove that the acquittee is not dangerous; and (2) the person had not carried the burden of proving that he was not dangerous (563 So 2d 1138).

On certiorari, the United States Supreme Court reversed. In that portion of the opinion by White, J., joined by Blackmun, Stevens, O’Connor, and Souter, JJ., which constituted the opinion of the court, it was held that (1) the Louisiana statute, insofar as it permitted the indefinite detention of insanity acquittees who were not mentally ill but who did not prove that they would not be dangerous, violated the due process clause; and (2) under the circumstances, the state was not entitled to perpetuate the confinement of the person in question solely on the basis of his antisocial personality, given that (a) even if such continued confinement were constitutionally permissible, keeping the person against his will in a mental institution was improper absent a determination in civil commitment proceedings of a current mental illness and dangerousness, (b) if the person could no longer be held as an insanity acquittee in a mental hospital, he was entitled to constitutionally adequate procedures to establish the grounds for his confinement, (c) the state had no punitive interest in imprisoning the person for the purposes of deterrence and retribution, and (d) the state had not explained why, if the person had committed criminal acts while at the psychiatric facility, the state’s interest would not be vindicated by other permissible ways of dealing with patterns of criminal conduct. Also, White, J., joined by Blackmun, Stevens, and Souter, JJ., expressed the view that the Louisiana statute discriminated against the person in violation of the equal protection clause.

O’Connor, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, (1) agreed that Louisiana could not, consistent with the due process clause, indefinitely confine the person in a mental facility on the ground that the person, although not mentally ill, might be dangerous to himself or to others if released; and (2) expressed the view that (a) it might be permissible for Louisiana to confine an insanity acquittee who had regained sanity if, unlike the situation in the case at hand, the nature and duration of detention were tailored to reflect pressing public safety concerns related to the acquittee’s continuing dangerousness, (b) the court’s holding placed no new restriction on the states’ freedom to determine whether and to what extent mental illness should excuse criminal behavior, and (c) it was unnecessary for the court to reach equal protection issues on the facts presented.

Kennedy, J., joined by Rehnquist, Ch. J., dissenting, expressed the view that (1) the conditions for incarceration imposed by Louisiana were in accord with legitimate and traditional state interests, vindicated after full and fair procedures; and (2) the majority impermissibly conflated the standards for civil and criminal commitment.

Thomas, J., joined by Rehnquist, Ch. J., and Scalia, J., dissenting, expressed the view that nothing in the Constitution, the Supreme Court’s precedents, or society’s traditions authorized the court to invalidate the Louisiana scheme either (1) on the ground that the scheme provided for the continued confinement of insanity acquittees who, although still dangerous, have recovered their sanity, or (2) on the ground that the scheme provided for the indefinite confinement of sane insanity acquittees in a mental facility.

HEADNOTES – Classified to U.S. Digest Lawyers’ Edition:
due process — indefinite confinement — insanity acquittee — dangerousness –

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