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GOMEZ v. MILLER

December 7, 1971

Luis GOMEZ et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Alan D. MILLER, Commissioner of Mental Hygiene of the State of New York, et al., Defendants


Lasker, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LASKER

LASKER, District Judge.

Plaintiffs are persons who have been indicted for felonies but not yet tried because they have been found to be incompetent to stand trial and confined *fn1" to Matteawan State Hospital under the provisions of § 662-b of the New York Code of Criminal Procedure (CCP). They bring this civil rights class action to declare the statute and its successor, art. 730 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 11-A unconstitutional, and for injunctive relief. Jurisdiction is predicated on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3), 2201 and 2202, the Fourteenth Amendment to, and Article 4, § 2, clause 1, of the United States Constitution. They move to amend the complaint and to reargue the denial of an earlier motion for the convening of a three-judge court. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint.

 The burden of the proposed amended complaint is that the procedure (of both statutes) under which members of the plaintiffs' class are committed to Matteawan violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment because it does not require a finding of dangerousness as a condition to commitment. The plaintiffs do not contend in this action that they are competent, but rather that, even if they are not competent, a finding of dangerousness is a constitutional prerequisite to commitment to Matteawan.

 As indicated in more detail below, persons falling within the plaintiff class here are the only persons who may be committed to Matteawan without a jury trial as to dangerousness. Incompetents other than members of the plaintiff class here can be committed without a finding of dangerousness to hospitals under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene, but they can be committed to Matteawan (operated by the Department of Correctional Services) only upon a determination that they are dangerous. It must be understood that there is a real difference between commitment to Matteawan and commitment to other hospitals for the mentally ill. As we pointed out in the earlier opinion in this case, "[the] difference between the conditions obtaining in hospitals under the control of the Department of Correctional Services -- Matteawan and Dannemora State Hospital -- and those under the control of the Department of Mental Hygiene has been recognized by this court and the Court of Appeals of this Circuit. Judge Frankel remarked in United States ex rel. von Wolfersdorf v. Johnston, 317 F. Supp. 66, 67 (S.D. N.Y. 1970), that Matteawan '. . . is vastly different from -- i.e., more miserable than -- state hospitals for those civilly committed.' The Court of Appeals expatiated on the subject [as to the 'adversities and rigors' of Matteawan's companion hospital Dannemora] in United States ex rel. Schuster v. Herold, 410 F.2d 1071, 1078-1079 (2d Cir. 1969), cert. den. 396 U.S. 847, 90 S. Ct. 81, 24 L. Ed. 2d 96 (1969)."

 It is plaintiffs' contention that they may not be committed to the rigors of Matteawan unless it is properly determined that they are dangerous. They do not contest that they may be committed to a hospital under the jurisdiction of the Department of Mental Hygiene without such a determination if found to be incompetent, as all members of the plaintiff class in this proceeding have been. If granted the relief they seek here, plaintiffs would continue to be committed to Matteawan upon a jury determination of dangerousness but without such a determination would be held in a Department of Mental Hygiene hospital until found competent or otherwise released in accordance with law.

 It is also claimed that the provisions of both statutes which (1) permit a nonresident of the state to move for dismissal of the underlying indictment at any time (but permit a resident to move for dismissal only after two years of confinement), and (2) require permission of the district attorney to move for dismissal of the underlying indictment, violate the same constitutional clauses.

 In an earlier unreported opinion (which dealt solely with § 662-b, CCP) *fn2" we denied plaintiffs' motion for similar relief, holding, as to the sole issue which then appeared to be presented, that the failure to provide a jury trial as to competence to stand trial did not render the statute unconstitutional. On the basis of that decision, defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint. Plaintiffs have moved for reargument on the ground that the issue sought to be presented was not the right to a jury trial to determine competence to stand trial, but rather the right to a jury trial as to dangerousness as a condition to commitment to Matteawan. Furthermore, because the (new) CPL has come into effect since the filing of the complaint, plaintiffs have moved to amend the complaint to include a request for a declaration of unconstitutionality and for injunctive relief as to the CPL in the event that it is held applicable to them (a theory which they contest).

 The Motion to Amend : The attack on the new statute is the sole material difference between the proposed amended complaint and the earlier pleading. Plaintiffs claim that there is at least serious doubt whether the provisions of the new law apply to them. They contend, however, that even if their cases are governed by the CPL, the improved procedure is still constitutionally defective as to them. Defendants construe the new statute to apply to plaintiffs and to have superseded the old law in governing the procedure of plaintiffs' continued commitment.

 Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 states that leave to amend "shall be freely given when justice so requires." In the unusual posture of this case in which a new statute covering the subject matter of the action has come into effect during the course of litigation, which defendants themselves do not deny but, in fact, assert is applicable to the proceedings at hand, and the amendment will not prejudice the defendants, it is clear that justice requires allowing leave to amend. Accordingly, the motion to amend is granted.

 The Motion to Reargue : The focus of the case as originally presented in plaintiffs' papers and on oral argument appeared to put as the issue the right to jury trial as to competence to stand trial. Nevertheless, an examination of the record does support plaintiffs' present contention that the issue of plaintiffs' right to a jury trial to determine dangerousness as a prerequisite to commitment was alleged and was not disposed of in the earlier opinion. It is therefore appropriate that it should be determined now. The constitutional claims are important and deserve consideration.

 I. The Constitutional Questions

 A. The New York Statutes

 The old statutory scheme contained separate provisions for the commitment to Matteawan of the following classes of mentally ill persons: persons not charged with crime (§ 85 Mental Hygiene Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 27); persons charged with crime but not indicted (§ 872 CCP); convicted prisoners (§ 408 of the Correction Law, McKinney's Consol. Laws, c. 43); persons indicted but not tried (plaintiffs' class) (§ 662-b CCP).

 A panoply of rights was established by the various laws, but for our purposes it is sufficient to state that as to all the classes except those of convicted persons and of persons indicted but not tried the statutes require a jury finding of dangerousness as a condition of commitment to Matteawan. In the case of a person indicted but not tried there is no such requirement. Even in the case of a convicted person the roster of rights is greater than that accorded a person indicted but not yet tried, e.g., the former is entitled to notice to a relative or next friend and periodic review of mental condition; the latter is not.

 In our earlier opinion we reviewed the accidents of history which produced the anomaly that the rights of untried defendants were narrower even than those of convicted defendants. The explanation is that as a result of the holding in Schuster v. Herold, 410 F.2d 1071 (2d Cir. 1969), that convicted prisoners serving a sentence could not be committed to Matteawan without substantially the same protections accorded a nonprisoner, the New York legislature amended § 408 of the Correction Law ...


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