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UNITED STATES v. AMBURGEY

December 1, 1960

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff,
v.
Calvin T. AMBURGEY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: YOUNGDAHL

This case, which presents several important questions in the administration of the Durham *fn1" rule and the defense of insanity in District of Columbia criminal prosecutions, *fn2" is before the Court in the form of an alternative motion by the defendant, Calvin T. Amburgey, for judgment of acquittal by reason of insanity, *fn3" or for a new trial. *fn4" At the conclusion of the trial, the Court, which heard the case without a jury, found the defendant guilty of forging and uttering four checks, *fn5" and rejected the defense of insanity.

Before discussing the legal issues posed by this motion, a brief outline of the facts of the case may be helpful:

 The defendant stands convicted of forging the name of G. Howland Shaw to four checks taken from Mr. Shaw's voucher, and of uttering the checks to four separate individuals. The eight offenses took place between November 22 and December 29, 1959; the defendant was arrested and charged with their commission on January 19, 1960.

 At his arraignment, defendant indicated that he desired to 'plead guilty on the grounds of insanity' because he had 'a mental hospitalization background', and further indicated that he lacked funds to hire an attorney. The Court appointed an attorney and a plea of not guilty was entered.

 Within two weeks the court-appointed attorney moved the Court for a mental examination (1) to discover whether defendant was competent to stand trial and (2) to attempt to discover defendant's mental state at the time the offenses were committed.' *fn6" On March 14, 1960, Chief Judge Pine granted this motion, and pursuant to his order defendant was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital. *fn7"

 At the end of the ninety days of examination called for by the order, Dr. Overholser, the Superintendent of St. Elizabeths, reported to the Court: first, that the defendant was competent to stand trial, and second, that he was

 'suffering from a mental disease, Personality Disorder, at the present time and was suffering from this mental disease on (the dates of the alleged offenses). However, we are unable to express an opinion as to whether or not the alleged crimes were the product of this mental disease.'

 No objection having been filed to this finding of competence to stand trial, *fn8" and defendant having waived his right to a jury, the trial commenced.

 That defendant committed the charged crimes was quickly established, for the accounts of the Government's witnesses on this aspect of the case were not seriously challenged by the defendant. *fn9"

 Evidence on the insanity defense, which came first from the complainant, Mr. Shaw, and second, from two psychiatrists was much less conclusive.

 Mr. Shaw commenced his testimony -- which was probably sufficient under the test now recognized to 'raise' the insanity defense -- by indicating that he had tried to help Amburgey find and hold a job, and that he sometimes had Amburgey stay in his home, the better to supervise this project.

 Mr. Shaw related that on November 2, 1959, three weeks before the first forgery charged in the indictment, Amburgey attempted suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping tablets, and that on the day following, he had voluntarily committed himself to the psychiatric division of D.C. General Hospital. This commitment, Mr. Shaw further testified, lasted for two weeks, terminating when Amburgey 'left' the hospital late one night. At that time, according to Mr. Shaw, a Dr. McAdoo of the staff of D.C. General was in the process of drawing papers to bring Amburgey before the Mental Health Commission for possible commitment to St. Elizabeths.

 Mr. Shaw also testified to hearsay information that Amburgey had been in an automobile accident in 1955, in which he suffered a crushed skull. Mr. Shaw concluded his testimony by stating that he was 'quite convinced that (Amburgey) was mentally ill' at the time of the offenses; when pressed for the basis for this opinion, he pointed to Amburgey's inability to hold a job; to difficulty in rousing him in the morning; and to 'a whole series of bizzare things' he had supposedly done to a Mrs. Meek who had befriended him -- *fn10"

 'An accumulation of a whole series of incidents, each one of which, perhaps, wasn't too important, but the cumulative effect of which ...


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