BOATRIGHT v. STATE

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Court of Appeals of Georgia.

BOATRIGHT v. The STATE.

No. A14A0068.

Decided: June 27, 2014

Amy Lee Ihrig, for Appellant. Margaret Heap, for Appellee. Christine Sieger Barker, for Appellee.

Richard Boatright was convicted by a jury on two counts of obstruction of a police officer after he resisted while officers took him into custody for the purpose of transporting him to an emergency facility to undergo an involuntary mental-health examination. Boatright filed a motion for new trial in which he asserted, inter alia, that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions because the officers were not acting lawfully in detaining him and, consequently, he was entitled to offer resistance. The trial court denied his motion, and Boatright appeals this decision. Because we agree with Boatright that the officers were not acting with lawful authority, we reverse.

Viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict,1 the evidence adduced at trial shows that during the early morning hours of his birthday, Boatright was at home drinking alcohol and feeling depressed. He telephoned the Garden City Police Department to request a person to speak with about his problems and/or a resource number to call, but was advised that no one was available.

The police dispatcher nonetheless reported Boatright's call to the lieutenant on duty and relayed a “possible suicidal person at [Boatright's] residence.” And based upon that information, the lieutenant set up a temporary “command post” in Boatright's neighborhood and assigned several other officers, as well as emergency medical personnel, to this post.2

The lieutenant thereafter telephoned Boatright from the command post and had a “fairly lengthy” conversation with him. Although Boatright disputes the lieutenant's summary of that discussion, the lieutenant testified that Boatright was “severely depressed” and having suicidal thoughts, and—admittedly paraphrasing—claimed that Boatright wanted the lieutenant to “put him out of his misery.” The lieutenant deduced from Boatright's manner that he was “familiar with the concept of suicide by cop”3 and thus became concerned. The lieutenant's stated goal during the conversation was to “say anything” necessary to develop trust and rapport, so as to draw Boatright out of his home and take him into custody for an emergency mental-health examination.

Eventually, Boatright agreed to go outside on the condition that the lieutenant came to his home alone, so that the two of them could speak in person. The lieutenant then drove from the command post to Boatright's house with two additional officers in the back of his vehicle. Boatright walked down his driveway as the lieutenant drove up and, after approaching him alone and confirming that he did not have any visible weapons, the lieutenant immediately signaled for the other officers to take Boatright into custody. The other officers quickly exited the lieutenant's vehicle and immediately placed Boatright into handcuffs.

Apart from repeatedly calling the lieutenant a liar, Boatright was, by all accounts, calm and cooperative upon the lieutenant and the other officers' arrival at his residence. Boatright made no statements about hurting himself or others and it is undisputed that he had neither committed, nor was he suspected of committing, a crime.

Then, after Boatright was handcuffed, two additional officers were called from the command post to transport him to the hospital. And while he was passively resistant, Boatright was initially placed into the patrol car without incident. But after noticing that he was holding a flashlight, the transporting officers became concerned that Boatright had not been thoroughly searched when he was taken into custody. As a result, the officers stopped the patrol car and removed Boatright from the vehicle to search him yet again. However, as the officers attempted to return him to the backseat of the vehicle, Boatright became agitated and refused to comply. And as one officer attempted to force him into the car, Boatright kicked her in the chest while making a derogatory comment. He also kicked the second officer who took over the efforts to restrain him. The officers thereafter placed Boatright in leg shackles and he was taken to the hospital and involuntarily admitted.

Boatright was subsequently charged with two counts of obstruction of a law-enforcement officer for his acts of kicking the officers. He represented himself during trial and maintained throughout the proceedings that the officers were not acting in the lawful discharge of their duties when they placed him into custody.4

The jury ultimately convicted Boatright of two counts of obstruction of a police officer. He then filed a motion for new trial in which he asserted, inter alia, that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. Specifically, Boatright argued that the officers failed to follow the proper statutory procedure to take him into custody for an involuntary mental-health evaluation and, therefore, he was legally authorized to use reasonable force to resist their efforts. The trial court denied his motion, and this appeal follows.

It is well established that “[a]n essential element of the offense of obstruction of an officer is that the State prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the obstruction occurred while the officer was in the lawful discharge of his official duties.”5 Thus, the determinative question presented in this appeal is whether the officers' act of taking Boatright into custody for the purpose of effecting an involuntary mental-health evaluation comported with their lawful authority.6 If the officers were not legally authorized to take Boatright into custody, then he had the right to “resist with all force necessary for that purpose.”7

We begin our analysis by noting that any seizure of a person—even the taking of a person into civil custody8 —is governed by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution9 and Article I, Section I, Paragraph XIII of the Georgia Constitution.10 And specifically, when an officer takes a person into custody for an involuntary mental-health examination, the seizure must be supported by probable cause.11 In this context, probable cause exists only if “there are reasonable grounds for believing that the person seized is subject to seizure under the governing legal standard.”12

In Georgia, the governing legal standard for the lawful taking of an individual into custody for the purposes of receiving an involuntary mental-health examination is delineated in OCGA § 37–3–40 et seq. Specifically, OCGA § 37–3–41 requires a peace officer to act pursuant to (1) a physician's certificate stating that the physician “has personally examined [the] person within the preceding 48 hours and found that ․ the person appears to be a mentally ill person requiring involuntary treatment,” or (2) a court order based upon either the above-referenced physician's certificate or “upon the affidavits of at least two persons who attest that, within the preceding 48 hours, they have seen the person to be taken into custody and ․ have reason to believe such person is a mentally ill person requiring involuntary treatment .”13 In the absence of either of the foregoing, OCGA § 37–3–42(a) permits a peace officer to seize an individual for an involuntary mental-health examination “if (1) the person is committing a penal offense, and (2) the peace officer has probable cause for believing that the person is a mentally ill person requiring involuntary treatment.”14

Given the applicable statutory framework, we conclude that the officers were not acting within the scope of their lawful authority when they took Boatright into custody. They did not have a physician's certificate or a court order as required by OCGA § 37–3–41, and it is undisputed that Boatright had not committed, nor was he suspected of committing, a penal offense as mandated by OCGA § 37–3–42(a).15

In so holding, we are mindful that there is no dispute that the lieutenant and each of the officers involved in this case operated with the very best of intentions. Nonetheless, among our most cherished rights, as American citizens and Georgians, is “the freedom of choice as to our movements, to be free to go where and when we wish․”16 In recognition of the sanctity of this right, we stringently construe all laws that deprive us of our physical liberty and ensure that all requirements of those laws are strictly complied with by the State.17 And because the subject matter of this case involves “the extremely sensitive area of deprivation of [physical] liberty,”18 and further because “[t]he procedural safeguards contained in [the governing statutes] are obviously there for the purpose of ensuring that individual rights are not eroded in the name of medical expediency,”19 we require strict compliance with the procedures mandated by these statutory provisions.20

Thus, despite the purest motives of the law-enforcement officers, Boatright was not lawfully detained. Consequently, he was authorized to resist those attempting to take him into custody with all force necessary for that purpose, rendering insufficient the evidence against him to sustain his convictions on obstruction of a law-enforcement officer.21

Judgment reversed.

DILLARD, Judge.

DOYLE, P.J., and MILLER, J., concur in judgment only.

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