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December 20, 1991


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Motions Judge)

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Ferren and Wagner, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rogers

ROGERS, Chief Judge: The principal issue in this appeal is whether a defendant committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in 1974, as a result of a not guilty by reason of insanity plea to simple assault, has demonstrated manifest inJustice by reason of errors by the trial Judge and trial counsel entitling him to vacation of his plea and unconditional release under D.C. Code § 24-301 (k) (1989 Repl.). Appellant Anthony Walls contends that the finding by the motions Judge that he has not been prejudiced is untenable and unsupported by the record. He contends, more specifically, that but for such errors he would have pleaded guilty with one of two consequences: (1) he would have waived the insanity defense and if found guilty, served a maximum sentence of one year of incarceration, followed by resumption of his 1972 civil commitment, or (2) the trial Judge would have imposed an insanity defense, followed by a jury trial (on mental illness and dangerousness), under D.C. Code § 21-545 (1989 Repl.), which at worst would have resulted in a civil -- not criminal -- commitment paralleling his 1972 commitment. Accordingly, appellant maintains that he has been committed indefinitely, without a jury trial, and with the extra burdens of a criminal commitment which he need not have received if properly advised under Super. Ct. Crim R. 11.

The motions Judge denied appellant's motion for release from his criminal commitment, concluding that appellant had not been prejudiced by any alleged error because he would have been committed to the Hospital indefinitely in 1974 even if he had pleaded guilty to the assault charge. That, however, is not necessarily true. If appellant had pleaded guilty to assault in 1974 and the court had imposed an insanity defense, he would have been entitled to a jury trial on mental illness and dangerousness and either found eligible for release or, at worst, continued his commitment as a civil committee. If, on the other hand, the court had accepted his guilty plea, appellant would have resumed his 1972 civil commitment after no more than one year of incarceration for assault and thus would have been spared any criminal commitment. Furthermore, because of the 1987 decision in Streicher v. Prescott, 663 F. Supp. 335 (D.D.C. 1987), nullifying the civil commitments of the class of pre-1973 civil committees because their commitments had been based on a preponderance of the evidence and not clear and convincing evidence, the difference in consequences between a civil and criminal commitment became even more significant. Especially after Streicher v. Prescott, appellant's prejudice is clear: because of his not guilty by reason of insanity plea in 1974, resulting in a criminal commitment under D.C. Code § 24-301 (d), he failed to receive a new civil commitment proceeding with a jury trial on mental illness and dangerousness, a trial to which he eventually would have been entitled under Streicher v. Prescott as a result of an imposed insanity defense. Accordingly, we reverse. *fn1


Appellant Walls was civilly committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital on October 20, 1972. D.C. Code §§ 21-521 to -528 (1989 Repl.). On December 31, 1973, while on a holiday pass, he was arrested for assaulting a drugstore clerk. He was thereafter charged with one count of simple assault. Following a competency and productivity examination at the Hospital, he was found competent to stand trial on March 11, 1974, and pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial.

On April 12, 1974, appellant's case was assigned to Judge William S. Thompson for trial. The prosecutor advised the Judge that defense counsel had entered into an oral stipulation regarding the government's case, and that the defense would be insanity. *fn2 After hearing the stipulated facts, *fn3 the Judge heard testimony from a psychologist, Dr. Maher. *fn4 The doctor read from the Hospital's report, stating that appellant was mentally ill, his "judgment and behavior controls were strenuously impaired," and, in response to the Judge's question, that the alleged offense was the product of the mental illness. *fn5 Following this brief testimony -- one transcript page -- the Judge found appellant not guilty because of reason of insanity, and appellant was committed to the Hospital. A series of Bolton *fn6 hearings were subsequently held over the years. D.C. Code §§ 24-301 (d)(2) & (k) (1989 Repl.).

On August 21, 1989, the clerk's office of the Superior Court received a letter written by appellant which was filed as a pro se motion for release pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-301 (k). New counsel appointed to represent appellant subsequently filed a memorandum in support of the motion, to which was attached appellant's affidavit. Contending that appellant had been denied due process, counsel maintained that the insanity acquittal was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel, and that the insanity plea was invalid because the trial Judge had failed to inquire whether the plea was voluntary and made with an understanding of its consequences, citing United States v. Brown, 138 App. D.C. 398, 428 F.2d 1100 (1970), as adopted by this court in Glenn v. United States, 391 A.2d 772, 774-76 (D.C. 1978).

The motions Judge denied the motion, finding first, that although appellant's affidavit stated that his trial counsel had failed to inform him fully about the consequences of his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity (and this could not be rebutted by the government since trial counsel had died), and assuming appellant would not have entered that plea but pleaded guilty, as he asserted he would have, appellant had failed to show prejudice under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 697, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984). The Judge noted that appellant was already civilly committed when the assault occurred in 1973, and that he did not claim he had not committed the assault or that he did not have a valid insanity defense. Accordingly, the motions Judge concluded that had appellant not pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, either he would have been convicted after a waiver of the insanity defense and served a maximum sentence of one year's incarceration "followed by a return to civil commitment," or the trial Judge would have imposed the insanity defense "followed by a return to civil commitment . . . ." While the process of commitment right have been different, *fn7 and the process for release is different, *fn8 the Judge found that "there is little probability here that the result would have been" (emphasis in original) (citing Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354, 363, 77 L. Ed. 2d 694, 103 S. Ct. 3043 n.11 (1983) ("the basic standard for release is the same under either civil commitment or commitment following acquittal by reason of insanity")). Thus, the Judge concluded, in view of appellant's failure to obtain unconditional release at Bolton hearings held throughout the years, appellant "would have been committed to [the Hospital] from 1974 to the present." *fn9

Turning to the alleged errors by the trial Judge, the motions Judge concluded that "a majority of the concerns embodied in Rule 11 were left unaddressed." Although satisfied from the "totality of circumstances" *fn10 that appellant had received "real notice of the nature of the charges against him," *fn11 the motions Judge could not conclude that appellant also had real notice of the consequences of his plea. The Judge found that "the trial Judge failed to fulfill his obligations under Brown [, (supra) , 138 App. D.C. 398, 428 F.2d 1100,] because he failed to make the determinations required by Super. Ct. Crim. R. 11." But, referring to her prior analysis of prejudice, the motions Judge found none since "the end result would have been identical: the defendant would have been committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital from 1974 to the present under essentially identical conditions."


It is undisputed that the trial Judge in 1974 failed to comply with Rule 11 requirements when he accepted appellant's plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. In 1974 Rule 11 required that before accepting a plea, the Judge shall inquire personally of the defendant whether "the plea is made voluntarily with understanding of the nature of the charge and the consequences of the plea." Bettis v. United States, 325 A.2d 190, 193 (D.C. 1974) (quoting Rule 11); see Brown, supra, 138 App. D.C. at 401-02, 428 F.2d at 1103-04 ("We hold that where a defendant in a criminal case seeks to waive trial on all issues except insanity the trial Judge should address the defendant personally in determining whether the wavier is made voluntarily with understanding of the consequences of his act." (footnote omitted)). See also Morrison v. United States, 579 A.2d 686, 691 (D.C. 1990); Legrand v. United States, 570 A.2d 786, 793 (D.C. 1990). *fn12 The trial transcript reveals no inquiry at all by the trial Judge of appellant before accepting his plea. *fn13 The requirement that the Judge ascertain whether the defendant understands the consequences of the plea is one of the "core concerns" of Rule 11. Gaston v. United States, 535 A.2d 893, 895 (D.C. 1988).

What is disputed is whether appellant has demonstrated manifest inJustice. See Morrison, supra, 579 A.2d at 689-90 (applying manifest inJustice standard to withdrawal of plea of not guilty by reason of insanity); Legrand, supra, 570 A.2d at 792 (same). The government argued in the trial court that the prejudice which appellant must show to demonstrate manifest inJustice is that but for the defects in the process that led to his not guilty by reason of insanity plea in 1974, he would not have entered the plea and been indefinitely confined beyond the maximum length of the sentence for assault. Since, the government maintained, appellant's indefinite confinement stems from the seriousness of his mental illness and not the difference in procedural protections afforded to a civil rather than an insanity acquittee, he had shown no prejudice. Further, the government continued, appellant can show no prejudice because the standard for release is dependent on proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is no longer dangerous to himself or others, and there is nothing in the record to suggest that appellant would have been unconditionally released at any time.

The motions Judge's reasoning was different from the government's: in 1974 appellant would have been involuntarily committed to the Hospital for an indefinite period regardless of what happened to the criminal charge since he had been civilly committed in 1972 and his record of conduct at the Hospital did not indicate that he was entitled to unconditional release. On appeal, the government repeats the argument that it made in the trial court and maintains that even in the absence of the 1972 commitment, ...

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