MUREL ET AL. v. BALTIMORE CITY CRIMINAL COURT ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
Argued March 28-29, 1972
Decided June 19, 1972
In this habeas corpus challenge to the constitutionality of Maryland's Defective Delinquency Law made by petitioners, who were convicted of various state crimes and committed to Patuxent Institution for indeterminate periods, held that the writ of certiorari must be dismissed as improvidently granted, since one of the petitioners has been unconditionally released, and the others are subject to unexpired sentences barring their release even if their claims prevailed (cf. McNeil v. Director, Patuxent Institution, ante, p. 245); moreover, petitioners' challenge to one Defective Delinquency Law should be considered in relation to other state laws regarding civil commitment for compulsory psychiatric treatment, Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 , and those laws are now being substantially revised to afford greater safeguards to committed persons.
436 F.2d 1153, certiorari dismissed as improvidently granted.
Karl G. Feissner and Andrew E. Greenwald argued the cause for petitioners. With them on the brief were William L. Kaplan and Thomas P. Smith.
Henry R. Lord, Deputy Attorney General of Maryland, argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Francis B. Burch, Attorney General, and Edward F. Borgerding and Donald R. Stutman, Assistant Attorneys General.
Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General, Herbert L. Ashby, Chief Assistant Attorney General, William E. James, Assistant Attorney General, and Russell Iungerich and William R. Pounders, Deputy Attorneys General, filed a brief for the State of California as amicus curiae urging affirmance. [407 U.S. 355, 356]
Briefs of amici curiae were filed by Alan F. Charles for the National Legal Program on Health Problems of the Poor, and by Curtis R. Reitz and Julian Tepper for the Prison Research Council of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Petitioners were convicted of various state crimes and sentenced to fixed terms of imprisonment. They were then committed to the Patuxent Institution in lieu of sentence, for an indeterminate period, pursuant to the Maryland Defective Delinquency Law, Md. Ann. Code, Art. 31B. They sought federal habeas corpus, challenging on constitutional grounds the criteria and procedures that led to their commitment, and the conditions of their confinement. They contend, inter alia, that the statutory standard for commitment is impermissibly vague, that they are entitled to put the government to the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that at the compulsory psychiatric examination prescribed by the statute they were entitled to have the assistance of counsel and to invoke the privilege against self-incrimination, and that they are being denied a constitutional right to treatment. The District Court denied relief sub nom. Sas v. Maryland, 295 F. Supp. 389 (Md. 1969), and the Court of Appeals affirmed sub nom. Tippett v. Maryland, 436 F.2d 1153 (CA4 1971). 1 We granted certiorari, 404 U.S. 999 [407 U.S. 355, 357] (1971), to consider whether, and to what extent, the constitutional guarantees invoked by petitioners apply to this kind of commitment process. After briefing and oral argument, it now appears that this case does not present these issues in a manner that warrants the exercise of the certiorari jurisdiction of this Court.
1. Of the four petitioners, one has been unconditionally released from confinement, and the other three are subject to criminal sentences that have not yet expired, and that would bar their release from custody even if their claims were to prevail. 2 This fact, while not necessarily dispositive of all the claims presented by these petitioners, casts those claims in a different light, not contemplated by our original grant of the writ. 3 Cf. McNeil v. Director, Patuxent Institution, ante, p. 245.
2. Under our decisions in Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 (1966), Humphrey v. Cady, 405 U.S. 504 (1972), and Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972), petitioners' challenge to the Maryland Defective Delinquency Law should be considered in relation to the [407 U.S. 355, 358] criteria, procedures, and treatment that the State of Maryland makes available to other persons, not "defective delinquents," committed for compulsory psychiatric treatment. We are informed that the statutes governing civil commitment in Maryland are presently undergoing substantial revision, designed to provide greater substantive and procedural safeguards to committed persons. Accordingly, it seems a particularly inopportune time for this Court to consider a comprehensive challenge to the Defective Delinquency Law.
In these circumstances, the writ of certiorari is therefore dismissed as improvidently granted.
[ Footnote 2 ] At the start of this litigation nine years ago both Murel and Creswell were subject to confinement that was wholly attributable to the Defective Delinquency Law, their sentences having expired. This is no longer the case because Murel was recently released, and Creswell was convicted and sentenced on new charges. We therefore do not reach their claims.
[ Footnote 3 ] We do not suggest that these claims are moot, or that a case or controversy is lacking, or that habeas corpus is inappropriate to test the special incidents, if any, of these defective-delinquency confinements. See Carafas v. LaVallee, 391 U.S. 234 (1968); Jones v. Cunningham, 371 U.S. 236 (1963); North Carolina v. Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 248 (1971).
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
Patuxent Institution is a special prison used by the State of Maryland for the incarceration of "defective delinquents." Individuals who have demonstrated "persistent aggravated anti-social or criminal behavior," who have "a propensity toward criminal activity," and who have "either such intellectual deficiency or emotional unbalance" as to present "an actual danger to society" may be confined at Patuxent. Md. Ann. Code, Art 31B, 5 (1971). The initial determination that one is a defective delinquent is made judicially and, for those confined to Patuxent after such a determination, there is the right to seek judicial redetermination of their status at three-year intervals. Id., 6 et seq. One of the objectives of Patuxent supposedly is to provide treatment for the inmates so that they may be returned to society. Director v. Daniels, 243 Md. 16, 31-32, 221 A. 2d 397, 406 (1966). Should a defective delinquent not receive treatment, or should the treatment prove inadequate to return him to society, the inmate might [407 U.S. 355, 359] well remain in Patuxent for the remainder of his life. See McNeil v. Director, Patuxent Institution, ante, p. 245.
Petitioners brought this action in the District Court challenging various aspects of their confinement at Patuxent. The District Court denied relief, Sas v. Maryland, 295 F. Supp. 389 (Md. 1969); the Court of Appeals affirmed, Tippett v. Maryland, 436 F.2d 1153 (CA4 1971); and we granted the petition for a writ of certiorari. 404 U.S. 999 . Because I base my decision on narrow grounds, I do not reach the broader issues tendered by petitioners.
When a State moves to deprive an individual of his liberty, to incarcerate him indefinitely, or to place him behind bars for what may be the rest of his life, the Federal Constitution requires that it meet a more rigorous burden of proof than that employed by Maryland to commit defective delinquents. The Defective Delinquency Law does not specify the burden of proof necessary to commit an individual to Patuxent, but the Maryland Court of Appeals has determined that the State need only prove its case by the "fair preponderance of the evidence." E. g., Crews v. Director, 245 Md. 174, 225 A. 2d 436 (1967); Termin v. Director, 243 Md. 689, 221 A. 2d 658 (1966); Dickerson v. Director, 235 Md. 668, 202 A. 2d 765 (1964); Purks v. State, 226 Md. 43, 171 A. 2d 726 (1961); Blizzard v. State, 218 Md. 384, 147 A. 2d 227 (1958); and see Sas v. Maryland, 334 F.2d 506 (CA4 1964); Walker v. Director, 6 Md. App. 206, 250 A. 2d 900 (1969). Petitioners have thus been taken from their families and deprived of their constitutionally protected liberty under the same standard of proof applicable to run-of-the-mill automobile negligence actions. 1 [407 U.S. 355, 360]
The Court of Appeals disapproved this standard but, because it felt it insignificant, nonetheless held it to be consistent with the requirements of the Due Process Clause:
The reason for our continued concern over the applicable burden of proof is that a lawsuit - like any other factfinding process - is necessarily susceptible of error in the making of factual determinations. The nature of the rights implicated in the lawsuit thus determines the allocation and degree of the burden of proof and consequently the party upon whom the risk of errors in the factfinding process will be placed. We applied this reasoning in Speiser, where First Amendment rights were implicated:
In the present case, petitioners were deprived of their most basic right - their personal liberty - under a burden of proof which was constitutionally inadequate. The [407 U.S. 355, 364] right to liberty is one of transcendent value. Without it, other constitutionally protected rights such as the right of free expression and the right of privacy become largely meaningless. Yet Maryland has deprived petitioners of this right, using a burden of proof which fails to give sufficient weight to the interests involved.
It is no answer to say that petitioners' commitments were in "civil" proceedings and that the requirement for proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required only in "criminal" cases. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), and In re Winship, supra, specifically rejected this distinction and looked instead at the interests involved and the actual nature of the proceedings. See also Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U.S. 107 (1966); Specht v. Patterson, 386 U.S. 605 (1967). Nor would it be persuasive to argue that the difficulty in proving one's state of mind requires that the State be afforded the benefit of a lesser burden of proof. Proving a state of mind is no more difficult than many other issues with which courts and juries grapple each day. 2 An individual who is confronted with [407 U.S. 355, 365] the possibility of commitment, moreover, runs the risk of losing his most important right - his liberty.
Speiser and Winship indicate that an individual's personal liberty is an interest of transcending value for the deprivation of which the State must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. I would follow established precedent and hold that a State may not subject individuals to lengthy - if not indefinite - incarceration under a lesser burden of proof. Accordingly, I would reverse the judgment below.
[ Footnote 1 ] In petitioner Murel's redetermination hearing on December 21, 1964, for example, the trial court instructed the jury: "The burden is on the State to prove by a preponderance of evidence, as I have [407 U.S. 355, 360] stated to you, that the defendant does come within all phases of the definition of a defective delinquent." Trial Transcript 70.
The jury instructions in petitioner Creswell's December 20, 1961, redetermination trial were similar:
[ Footnote 2 ] Bruce J. Ennis, Staff Attorney of the New York Civil Liberties Union and Director of the Civil Liberties and Mental Illness Project, testified as follows before the Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, 91st Cong., 1st & 2d Sess., 277-278 (1969 and 1970):