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IN RE WILLIAMS

August 7, 1958

In the Matter of Dallas O. WILLIAMS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: YOUNGDAHL

Petitioner has filed a writ of habeas corpus seeking release from St. Elizabeths Hospital. The facts giving rise to this present proceeding are as follows:

Petitioner was arrested on the evening of February 2, 1958, on a charge of drunkenness. He was charged the following day in Municipal Court and pleaded guilty when his case was brought before that court on February 11.

 The Court was concerned with the question of the existence of mental illness on the part of petitioner and, therefore, did not accept petitioner's plea, but ordered that he be given a mental examination under District of Columbia Code, Sec. 24-301(a) et seq.

 On April 21, 1958, the Court held a 'sanity inquisition'. After hearing the testimony of twelve witnesses presented by both the petitioner and the District of Columbia Government, it found the petitioner 'of unsound mind' and ordered his commitment to a mental hospital.

 After said hearing petitioner sued for relief by a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court, 162 F.Supp. 514, 517. That Court held that he was illegally detained in a mental hospital 'in the absence of a determination of (his) competency to stand trial' and ordered such determination to be made within ten days or else the writ would issue. The District Court then went on to say, 'If * * * he is found incompetent to stand trial he will be committed under the statute to a mental hospital. If he is found competent to stand trial, he will have his trial, and whether convicted or acquitted he will be returned to the mental hospital under the prior commitment on unsoundness of mind.'

 This order of the District Court was appealed and the United States Court of Appeals, 102 U.S.App.D.C. -- , 259 F.2d 175, interpreted the disjunctive in the last sentence of Sec. 24-301(a) *fn1" as follows: 'The last sentence, as we read it in its context, comes only to this; the court shall order the accused confined in a mental hospital if it finds that because of unsoundness of mind or for any other reason he is mentally incompetent to stand trial. * * * The purpose of § 24-301(a), we think, is simply to prescribe the procedure for determining whether an accused person can understand the proceedings against him and properly assist in his defense, and to provide for his confinement in a hospital instead of a jail until he can.'

 In accord with these decisions a hearing was held on July 18, 1958, to determine the petitioner's competency to stand trial. The Court then ruled 'that as of this time he is mentally competent to understand the proceedings against him and to properly assist in his own defense.' Petitioner volunteered a plea of guilty, which the Court refused to accept. The Court directed the entry of a plea of not guilty and put the Government to its proof.

 Petitioner argues in his motion that once he has been adjudged competent to stand trial, the Court must accept his plea. However, this contention flies in the face of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A., *fn2" and the psychiatric testimony adduced before the Court in this case. *fn3" The issues involved in the plea of guilty and the consequences which attach to a plea require a greater degree of awareness than the competency to stand trial. The Court may reasonably find, as it did in this case, that the latter competency may exist and still not feel justified in accepting a plea of guilty on the defendant's behalf.

 After the trial court's ruling, the Government then placed on the stand its only witness, Officer William Booth, who testified that on the night of February 2, 1958, petitioner was 'observed * * * in the middle of the street with his hands up in the air, screaming, and yelling. * * * He had an odor of alcohol on his breath. * * * He appeared to be under the influence of alcohol at first sight.' (Transcript pp. 13, 14.) Defendant did not cross-examine and did not offer any testimony on his own behalf.

 The Court found the defendant not guilty because of insanity (Transcript p. 20) quite clearly because of the April 21st finding of unsoundness of mind (Transcript p. 16).

 Petitioner contends in his motion for a writ of habeas corpus that the use of the finding of April 21st, for any purpose other than to determine competency to stand trial, is contrary to Sec. 24-301(a) as interpreted by the Court of Appeals and that he is, therefore, being held contrary to law. He further urges that eliminating this April 21st finding, there was no testimony at the trial to form the basis for the Court's verdict.

 Moreover, the Durham rule requires a finding of causal relationship between the mental disease or mental defect and the crime committed. *fn4" This issue of causal relationship was not even mentioned at the hearing of April 21st. Further, the standard involved in competency to stand trial is far less demanding that that of mental disease or mental defect. One might very well be found competent to stand trial and still be found not guilty by reason of insanity. *fn5"

 There remains, then, the testimony admitted at the trial itself -- the testimony of police officer Booth. From the Court's examination of the records of the case it would appear that Officer Booth expressed no opinion as to petitioner's mental health. However, the evaluation of Officer Booth's testimony involves consideration of the sufficiency of the evidence to support the Court's judgment. The proper court to determine this issue is the Municipal Court of Appeals where petitioner's case is now pending. It would be improper for this court to decide this issue and thus transform the writ of habeas corpus into a writ of error, for this would in effect constitute this court as an appellate court from the Municipal Court, whereas under the statute an appeal must be taken to the Municipal Court of Appeals. '* * * Ordinarily habeas corpus will not lie where there is another adequate remedy by appeal. * * * But where constitutional rights cannot otherwise adequately be preserved, as where there was no other speedy and efficacious remedy open to petitioner in the usual and orderly course of criminal procedure * * * habeas corpus is proper.' Ferris, Extraordinary Legal Remedies 34. In the case at bar, no such showing has been made. A remedy by appeal is readily available in the usual and orderly course of criminal procedure. Petitioner has stressed the undue delay involved in an appeal. The Municipal Court of Appeals is practically current in its calendar and it appears that the appeal ...


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