Vitek v. Jones

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VITEK, CORRECTIONAL DIRECTOR, ET AL. v. JONES
No. 78-1155
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
445 U.S. 480; 100 S. Ct. 1254; 63 L. Ed. 2d 552; 1980 U.S.
December 3, 1979, Argued
March 25, 1980, Decided

PRIOR HISTORY:
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA.

DISPOSITION: Affirmed as modified.
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DECISION: Involuntary transfer of state prisoner to state mental hospital without notice and adversary hearing, held violative of due process clause of Fourteenth Amendment.

SUMMARY: A Nebraska state prisoner who was transferred to a state mental hospital pursuant to a Nebraska statute authorizing the Director of Correctional Services to transfer a prisoner when a designated physician finds that the prisoner “suffers from a mental disease or defect” and “cannot be given proper treatment” in prison, intervened in a case pending in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska which had been brought by other prisoners against the state challenging, on procedural due process grounds, the adequacy of the procedures by which Nebraska permits the transfer of a prisoner from a prison complex to a mental hospital. A three-judge District Court was convened and declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to the prisoner, holding that transferring him to a mental hospital without adequate notice and opportunity for a hearing deprived him of liberty without due process of law contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment, and that such transfers must be accompanied by adequate notice, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, a written statement by the factfinder of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the decision, and the availability of appointed counsel for indigent prisoners (437 F Supp 569). The District Court requested counsel to suggest appropriate relief, and, after learning that the prisoner had been transferred from the hospital to the psychiatric ward of the prison, the court entered its judgment in which the court declared the statute unconstitutional as applied to the prisoner and permanently enjoined the state from transferring the prisoner to the mental hospital without following the procedures prescribed in its judgment. Thereafter, on direct appeal, the United States Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the District Court and remanded the case to that court for consideration of the question of mootness (56 L Ed 2d 381). Although the prisoner had been paroled on condition that he accept psychiatric treatment at a Veterans’ Administration hospital, the District Court, on remand, found that the case was not moot because the prisoner was subject to, and was in fact under, the threat of being transferred to the state mental hospital pursuant to the state statute if the injunction was removed. The District Court then reinstated its original judgment.

On direct appeal, the United States Supreme Court affirmed, with modification. Although unable to agree on an opinion with regard to the portion of the District Court’s judgment mandating the availability of appointed counsel for indigent prisoners, five members of the court agreed that a prisoner was entitled to qualified and independent assistance at an adversary hearing. In an opinion (part of which constituted the opinion of the court–parts I, II, III, IV-A, and V) by White, J., joined by Brennan, Marshall, Powell, and Stevens, JJ., it was held that (1) the decision of the District Court remained a live controversy and was not moot even though, after the decision had been appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the prisoner had been paroled on condition that he accept psychiatric treatment at a Veterans’ Administration hospital, and then returned to prison for having violated that parole, it not being absolutely clear, absent the injunction, that the alleged wrongful behavior could not reasonably be expected to recur, (2) the involuntary transfer of a state prisoner to a mental hospital implicates a liberty interest that is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since under the state statute allowing for such transfers, a prisoner could reasonably expect that he would not be transferred to a mental hospital without a finding that he was suffering from a mental illness for which he could not secure adequate treatment in the prison, and since, independent of the statute, the stigmatizing consequences of a transfer to a mental hospital for involuntary psychiatric treatment, coupled with the subjection of the prisoner to mandatory behavior modification as a treatment for mental illness, constitute the kind of deprivations of liberty that require procedural protections, and (3) the procedural protections required by the due process clause include a written notice of the transfer, an adversary hearing before an independent decisionmaker, written findings, and effective and timely notice of such rights. White, J., joined by Brennan, Marshall,and Stevens, JJ., also expressed the view (part IV-B of the opinion) that it is appropriate that counsel be provided to indigent prisoners whom the state seeks to treat as mentally ill.

Powell, J., concurring in part, joined in the opinion of the court except with respect to a prisoner’s entitlement to legal counsel, agreeing that qualified and independent assistance must be provided to an inmate who is threatened with involuntary transfer to a state mental hospital, but expressing the view that an inmate need not always be supplied with a licensed attorney.

Stewart, J., joined by Burger, Ch. J., and Rehnquist, J., dissented, expressing the view that the case at bar was moot, because there was no demonstrated probability that the prisoner would again be transferred to a state hospital in accord with the state statute.

Blackmun, J., dissenting, expressed the view that the case at bar was not ripe for adjudication, since the asserted injury, as well as any immediate threat that the injury would be suffered again, had disappeared, at the latest, when the prisoner was granted parole.

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