Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Bruce D. Beaudin, Trial Judge)
Before Ferren,** Acting Chief Judge, and Steadman, Associate Judge, and Belson, Senior Judge.***
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ferren
FERREN, Acting Chief Judge: In this criminal commitment case, appellant contends the trial court erred in denying his motion for unconditional release or, in the alternative, for conditional release under D.C. Code § 24-301 (k) (1989). Specifically, appellant argues that he presented sufficient evidence at his hearing to show that (1) he does not suffer from a mental illness and (2) even if he does, his condition does not warrant indefinite hospitalization. Appellant also maintains that, under the proper legal standard for release of insanity acquittees, he was entitled to release as a matter of law. We affirm.
In 1970, while living in Maryland, appellant shot and killed his stepson. The following year he pled guilty to manslaughter and served approximately two years in prison. Two years after his release, appellant was arrested for the murder and robbery of Doritha King. During his trial in 1977, the jury rejected appellant's insanity defense. On appeal, this court reversed his convictions and ordered a new trial. See (Richard H.) Jackson v. United States, 404 A.2d 911 (D.C. 1979). Appellant then pled not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) to the robbery charge and pled guilty to manslaughter. He received a sentence of 7 1/2 to 22 1/2 years in prison for manslaughter but initially was committed to St. Elizabeths Hospital to comply with the NGI portion of his dual sentence.
In 1983, after almost four years at St. Elizabeths, appellant received a conditional release directing him to serve the remainder of his sentence for manslaughter with the Department of Corrections. In accord with the court order granting that release, appellant, upon his parole, was returned to St. Elizabeths in 1985. The following year, the Hospital recommended a conditional release that would allow appellant to seek employment in the community while continuing to reside at St. Elizabeths. In 1987, the trial court denied the Hospital's request to revoke appellant's conditional release after he returned late one day under circumstances indicating that he had violated the terms of his release. Two years later, the court granted appellant's motion for convalescent leave, allowing him both to live and to work in the community while continuing outpatient treatment. The order provided that if appellant's "mental condition deteriorates, or if he violates the conditions of his release, the hospital may return him to total inpatient care, with prompt notification to the Court and counsel."
In June 1990, appellant was involved in an automobile accident in Maryland, where he was cited for driving while under the influence and driving an uninsured vehicle. The following month, he stopped keeping his weekly outpatient appointments. In August, the Hospital placed appellant on unauthorized leave and requested a bench warrant for his return. Maryland also issued bench warrants for his arrest when appellant failed to appear in court for his motor vehicle violations. After appellant was arrested on the Maryland warrants in May 1991, he was returned to St. Elizabeths.
The next month, appellant filed a motion for unconditional release or, in the alternative, for conditional release under D.C. Code § 24-301(k) (1981). After a hearing in August 1991, the trial court denied his motion.
Under D.C. Code § 24-301 (k)(3) (1981), appellant must show "by a preponderance of the evidence" that he is entitled to conditional or unconditional release. On this question, "the judgment of the trial court must survive scrutiny by this court unless it is plainly wrong or without evidence to support it." (Daniel) Jackson v. United States, 557 A.2d 164, 164 (D.C. 1989) (citing DeVeau v. United States, 483 A.2d 307, 316 (D.C. 1984)).
The parties agree that, for unconditional release, appellant must meet the standard of Overholser v. O'Beirne, 112 U.S. App. D.C. 267, 302 F.2d 852 (1961). He must "show (1) that he has recovered his sanity and (2) that such recovery has reached the point where he has no abnormal mental condition which in the reasonably foreseeable future would give rise to danger to the petitioner or to the public in the event of his release." Id. at 269, 302 F.2d at 854.
The trial court heard testimony from two expert witnesses. The government's expert testified that appellant "carries the diagnosis of an alcohol dependence and at this time a dysthymic disorder as well as a personality disorder with several traits." Appellant's expert conceded on cross-examination that "personality disorders are recognized in the diagnostic . . . manual as an abnormal mental condition" -- a condition which, when proved, would disqualify appellant for unconditional release under O'Beirne unless he could show that, in the reasonable future, that condition would not give rise to danger to appellant or to the public in the event of his release. See id.
After hearing this testimony and other evidence, the trial court found that appellant "is subject to and has in existence the mental illnesses described by [the two experts]." The trial court further found that, "when is on his own, the decisions that he has made historically are decisions that have placed people in jeopardy." As an example, the Judge pointed to the automobile accident that appellant became involved in while driving under the influence in June 1990: "If that doesn't pose a threat to someone in the community, then I cannot imagine what does[,] not to mention a threat to his own ...