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EX PARTE DEMARCOS

April 4, 1946

Ex parte DeMARCOS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORRIS

The petitioner by writ of habeas corpus seeks release from custody of Dr. Winfred Overholser, Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, to which hospital he was committed by an order of this Court, dated May 14, 1940, having been found to be of unsound mind, pursuant to the provisions of law for such determination in the District of Columbia. Previously the petitioner had been transferred from the Provincial Mental Hospital at Ponoka, Province of Alberta, Dominion of Canada, to Saint Elizabeths Hospital, in the District of Columbia, in conformity with the provisions of an act entitled 'An Act To provide for the repatriation of certain insane American citizens,' approved March 2, 1929, 24 U.S.C.A. 196a. He was admitted to Saint Elizabeths under that commitment on April 5, 1939.

The petitioner has on numerous occasions sought release from that institution by petitions for writs of habeas corpus on the ground that he is of sound mind and may not lawfully be longer detained. In one such proceeding, by an order entered as of December 6, 1944, he was found by the Court to be of sound mind and discharged from custody. On appeal from this action, the United States Court of Appeals directed the petitioner to be remanded to the custody of the respondent herein pending the outcome of the appeal. Having left the District of Columbia and returned to his native State, Tennessee, the petitioner was there taken into custody pursuant to a criminal charge (subsequently nolle prossed), for which he was indicted in the District of Columbia after his departure for Tennessee, and he was thereupon returned to this jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals reversed the action of this Court discharging the petitioner on the ground that, pursuant to the opinion in Dorsey v. Gill, App. D.C., 148 F.2d 857, 865, decided February 26, 1945, 'in no case of a person held in St. Elizabeths because of insanity should a judge order his release, unconditionally, in a habeas corpus proceeding.' In Dorsey v. Gill, decided after the action of this Court above mentioned and before the decision reversing such action, it was clearly pointed out that -- 'Habeas corpus is available, not for the purpose of determining a petitioner's mental condition, but, instead, as a method of initiating an appropriate procedure for that purpose: * * * if a petitioner was originally committed in a proceeding, properly commenced and carried out, but the judge, to whom the petition for habeas corpus is presented, is satisfied that a sufficient showing of present sanity has been made, he should, in this case, * * * order that the proceedings be reopened and a re-examination made to determine the petitioner's present mental condition.'

 Although this question was not passed upon in the hearing on the writ of habeas corpus, because it was not then known to be the proper procedure, the Court of Appeals considered that the only question before the Court in that case was whether the evidence raised a doubt as to the validity of the judgment of the hospital staff sufficient to require the reopening of commitment proceedings, and held that nothing in the record in that case raised sufficient doubt as to petitioner's insanity to justify such reopening.

 The mental disease with which the petitioner is said by the two psychiatrists testifying as to his unsoundness of mind to be afflicted is that which is known as true paranoia. That term, as defined by the two psychiatrists mentioned, and also by those who testified that the petitioner is of sound mind, means a chronic psychosis characterized by systematized delusions; false ideas that are systematized and not amenable to reasoning. The witnesses testifying on behalf of the respondent insist that such a disease is incurable. There is medical testimony to the contrary, at least in so far as improvement is concerned, though the principal burden of the psychiatrists on behalf of the petitioner is that he is not a paranoiac. One of these latter witnesses made a recent examination of the petitioner and did not testify in the previous case. In the present hearing lengthy testimony of the petitioner was given, which was not before the Court in the previous case, and also numerous may witnesses who have had much opportunity to observe the petitioner. Certain documentary exhibits have been introduced which have not heretofore been considered.

 There are certain facts in this case as to which there can be no dispute. The petitioner has had a most remarkable capacity for getting into difficulties, some of them very serious, during his entire life. He ran away from home at the age of 8 years because he was whipped by his father. He came into collision with the civil authorities while he was a non-commissioned officer during the Spanish American War. He received a discharge 'without honor' when his military unit was demobilized because he was then in the hands of the civil authorities charged with discharging firearms across a highway. He came into difficulties with the Canadian authorities in the instance of two assault charges and finally was convicted in that jurisdiction of manslaughter. It is not the province of this Court in this proceeding to retry those cases. It should be noted, however, that the petitioner was fully heard on his explanations with respect to them.

 After running away from home, his life, with the exception of comparatively short periods, has been one of movement. He has undoubtedly taken advantage of opportunities to become educated, and he has an unusually wide range of knowledge. That he is highly intelligent is not only conceded, but asserted, by all who have examined him. That he is egotistical to a large degree is beyond doubt. That he resents heartily what he considers to have been injustices to him is quite evident. At least one of the delusions he is said to entertain is attributable to certain of these characteristics. Having had the experiences which he has had with the law of habeas corpus, he has much greater knowledge of that subject than most laymen. Unfortunately, however, his knowledge of that subject is not as complete as he thinks it is. Believing that it was the inalienable right of an American citizen to be brought before a court when a petition for a writ of habeas corpus is finally disposed of, which in most cases it is, he felt that he had been arbitrarily and unjustly dealt with when one of his petitioner for such writ was dismissed without his presence in court being required. That feeling of resentment persisted until it was explained to him that the disposition of the petition was made by the court upon the return of a rule to show cause why the writ should not issue, in which instance the presence of the petitioner is not required. He is a voluble taker and a more voluble letter writer. I am quite convinced that the uncooperative attitude of the American Vice Consul, at Edmonton, Alberta, with whom he corresponded while he was in Canadian institutions, was the result of an understandable irritation at what that official considered an unnecessary volume of correspondence. Certain letters that he has written while at Saint Elizabeths, containing statements revealing his egotism and strong tendency toward exaggeration were considered by the psychiatrists at that institution to be strong evidence of the systematized delusions with which they are convinced he is afflicted. One of these letters appears in the margin of the opinion of the Court of Appeals which has been mentioned.

 All of these things may be indicative of unsoundness of mind, but the psychiatrists say that in and of themselves they do not constitute true paranoia, but rather show the persistence of the systematized delusions which had their origin in his difficulties in Canada. The systematized delusions of the petitioner relate, according to the psychiatrists, primarily to the following episodes:

 (1) An exaggerated notion of the part played by him in certain police work in Vancouver in 1926, concerning which he testified during the course of a police inquiry in that city in 1928.

 (2) His difficulties with the officials, principally the warden, during his incarceration in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and his feeling of persecution at their hands, which he attributed to the part he took in an investigation of abuses in the administration of the welfare relief fund in Vancouver following his police work there, and to his determination to appear as a witness before the Royal Commission then conducting an investigation of the penal institutions in Canada, to which Commission he intended to relate certain conditions existing at the penitentiary, including a shortage in the accounts which he had discovered.

 (3) His difficulties with the officials of the Provincial Mental Hospital, at Poneka, and his feeling of persecution at their hands, which he attributed to the influence of the warden of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, whom he says desired to discredit him and to keep him from appearing as a witness before the Royal Commission.

 I do not believe that there is much doubt that the petitioner would not now be confined as a paranoiac were it not for what the psychiatrists consider to be delusions respecting the matters above mentioned, as the information in the file of the Department of Justice, studied and considered by one of the psychiatrists testifying as to the unsoundness of petitioner's mind, related primarily to these matters. This seems to be quite evident from the following excerpt from his testimony:

 'True paranoia is a chronic, incurable disease of the mind which is characterized primarily by highly systematized delusions of persecution.

 'The personality is well preserved. The individual is usually a very intelligent individual. He is able to reason so that his expressions seem to have a lot of logic, but nevertheless he expresses many delusions of persecution. These delusions are of such a high type, however, that one must do a lot of collateral investigation to ...


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