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IN RE WILLIAMS

January 14, 1958

In the Matter of Dallas O. WILLIAMS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEECH

This matter is before the court on a writ of habeas corpus seeking the discharge of the petitioner, Dallas O. Williams, from the custody of the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths Hospital, to which he was committed by order of this Court in Mental Health No. 34-58, 'pending the outcome of proceedings to be forthwith instituted by the Mental Health Commission.'

At the time of the signing of the order of commitment, the petitioner was before the court for presentation of the certified copy of the judgment and opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, reversing his conviction in Criminal No. 1572-49 for lack of due process. Williams v. United States, D.C.Cir., 250 F.2d 19. The government requested that the court, before receiving the mandate of the Court of Appeals in the criminal case, consider the petition of the United States Attorney, on behalf of the Superintendent of the District of Columbia Jail, that the Mental Health Commission examine Williams and report its findings to the Court.

 The petition, sworn to by the United States Attorney, recited:

 '1. Dallas O. Williams, colored, male and about 43 years old, was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon in November, 1949. He has had five trials, two resulting in mistrials and three in convictions. Defendant was adjudicated incompetent and committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital three times during the period of these trials. Now, after the fifth trial, which resulted in conviction, the United States Court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has reversed and remanded with instructions to dismiss the indictment.

 '2. The staff of St. Elizabeth's Hospital advised that Dallas O. Williams at the present time shows no evidence of active mental illness but that he is potentially dangerous to others and if released is likely to repeat his patterns of criminal behavior, and might commit homicide.

 '3. This petition is filed pursuant to the opinion of the United States Court of Appeals in Williams v. United States ( D.C.Cir., 250 F.2d 19), decided November 1, 1957, wherein that Court stated: 'It is open to the Government, however, to proceed for a civil commitment under D.C.Code 21-326, if it considers that, with Williams at large in his present state, 'the rights of persons and of property will be jeopardized or the preservation of public peace imperiled and the commission of crime rendered probable."' (Emphasis supplied.)

 The petition then prayed that the Commission on Mental Health be directed to examine petitioner and report its findings to the Court and that he be committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital pending determination of the need for his continued confinement in a mental institution. Attached to the petition were the unsworn statements of Doctors 19), decided November 1, 1957, had examined the petitioner on December 28, 1957, at the jail. *fn1"

 The petition for a writ of habeas corpus followed. Issuance of the writ was granted, and a full hearing has now been had before this court upon the return to the writ. The sole issue in this proceeding is whether the petitioner is lawfully restrained by the respondent. At the outset, it should be pointed out that, inasmuch as there is no criminal charge now pending against petitioner, there is no contention that any provision of the criminal code authorized his commitment. The legality of his confinement must therefore be tested solely upon the civil authority of this Court.

 The Respondent relies upon 21-301 and 21-326 of the District of Columbia Code and the concluding suggestion of the Court of Appeals in its opinion reversing petitioner's criminal conviction.

 Section §§ 21-301 does not purport to provide any procedure for the commitment of insane persons. It merely deals with the court's power to superintend and direct the affairs of persons who have been adjudged non compos mentis, providing for appointment of committees or trustees for the management and preservation of insane persons' estates. *fn3"

 Section 21-326, captioned 'Apprehension and detention by police, without warrant, of insane persons found in public places,' deals with just that subject. *fn4" Although it provides an emergency procedure for apprehension of persons thought to be insane, which should not be defeated by an over-technical construction, *fn5" it does require that the arresting officer reasonably believe the person apprehended to be insane and incapable of managing his own affairs or a menace to the public peace, and authorizes only the initial arrest and detention.

 The two sections of the Code which prescribe the basic procedure for preliminary commitment of insane ...


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