Acting under 18 U.S.C. 4244-4248, a Federal District Court held a hearing on the sanity of petitioner, who had been indicted for robbery of a post office and felonious assault on a postal employee and had been found by authorities of a medical center for federal prisoners to be insane and unlikely to recover in the near future. After considering conflicting testimony and reports of psychiatrists, the Court found that petitioner was insane and so mentally incompetent that he could not stand trial; that, if released, he probably would endanger the safety of the officers, property, or other interests of the United States; and that no suitable arrangements for his custody and care, other than commitment to the custody of the Attorney General, were available. The Court, therefore, committed petitioner to the custody of the Attorney General until his sanity should be restored, or his mental condition so improved that, if released, he would not endanger the safety of the officers, property, or other interests of the United States, or until suitable arrangements could be made for his custody and care by the State of his residence. Held: The District Court's action is sustained. Pp. 367-376.
William J. Burrell, acting under appointment by the Court, 350 U.S. 945 , argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner.
Solicitor General Sobeloff argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were Assistant Attorney General Olney, Charles F. Barber, Beatrice Rosenberg and Julia P. Cooper. [350 U.S. 366, 367]
MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case involves the construction and constitutional validity of the Act of September 7, 1949, 63 Stat. 686, now codified in 18 U.S.C. 4244-4248, "To provide for the care and custody of insane persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States, and for other purposes."
Section 4244 provides a procedure for determining mental incompetency during the period "after arrest and prior to the imposition of sentence or prior to the expiration of any period of probation." 1 Section 4245 sets up a similar procedure for persons in prison believed to have been mentally incompetent at the time of their trial when the issue was not raised or determined before or during trial. Section 4246 states that whenever the trial court shall determine, under 4244 and 4245, that an accused [350 U.S. 366, 368] is or was mentally incompetent, the court may commit the accused to the custody of the Attorney General until the accused is mentally competent to stand trial or until the pending charges against him are disposed of according to law. Section 4246 further provides that if the court, after hearing as provided in the preceding 4244 and 4245, finds that the conditions specified in 4247 exist, the commitment shall be governed by 4248. 2 Section 4247 states that when a prisoner's sentence is about to expire and the prison board of examiners finds him insane and a probable danger to the officers, property, or other interests of the United States, then the court shall hold a hearing and, if it determines that those conditions exist, it may commit the prisoner to the custody of the Attorney General. 3 Under 4248 the [350 U.S. 366, 369] commitment shall run until sanity is restored, or until the prisoner's condition is so improved that he will not endanger the officers, property, or other interests of the United States, or until suitable arrangements are made for the care of the prisoner by his State of residence - reserving to the prisoner his right to establish his eligibility to release by writ of habeas corpus. 4
Petitioner, a resident of Cleveland, Ohio, was indicted on November 20, 1952, by a grand jury of the Western District of Missouri on two counts, for robbery from a United States Post Office in Kansas City, Missouri, and for felonious assault there on a postal employee. Under Rule 20 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure petitioner signed a waiver of trial in the Western District of Missouri and was transferred to the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Ohio. Acting on the suggestion of appointed counsel, the district judge ordered petitioner examined by a psychiatrist. After a hearing in which the examining psychiatrist testified that it was doubtful that petitioner, because of his mental condition, could have fully understood the significance of the waiver he signed, the District Court, on February 2, 1953, remanded [350 U.S. 366, 370] the case to the District Court for the Western District of Missouri for disposition.
That court ordered the accused delivered to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri, for the purpose of ascertaining his mental condition. On April 15, 1953, the Chief of the Psychiatric Service at the Medical Center filed his report concluding that the accused was legally insane, in that he was unable to choose between right and wrong and could not, by reason of his mental condition adequately cooperate with counsel in his own defense.
Petitioner was then transferred to jail; but, on November 16, 1953, the District Court entered an order returning him to the Medical Center for determination whether he was acutely or chronically insane. The report of the Neuropsychiatric Staff of the Medical Center, filed February 1, 1954, indicated that petitioner was "psychotic and incompetent," that "it is unlikely that this subject will regain his sanity in the near future," and recommended that "consideration be given to transferring this subject to a state hospital in his state of residence." The District Court, on the following day, ordered a further hearing under 4246 to "resolve the power to commit defendant as mentally defective under the conditions specified in Section 4247. . . ." and for that purpose requested the Director and Board of Examiners of the Medical Center to certify whether in their judgment the defendant, if released, would "probably endanger the safety of the officers, the property, or other interests of the United States, and that suitable arrangements for the custody and care of the (defendant) are not otherwise available." The report of the Board, dated February 4, 1954, concluded that the accused remained "psychotic and incompetent," and stated that "at the present time there appears to be little likelihood of his recovering to the extent that he might be considered competent in the [350 U.S. 366, 371] near future." In reply to the request of the District Court, "[t]he Board agreed that this subject might be considered potentially dangerous to the extent that if released he might conceivably persist in criminal activities of the type with which he is presently charged. In considering this man's mental illness the Board finds that he does not hold any fixed delusions concerning wanting to harm any person or group of persons, either officials of the government or otherwise, so that in this respect he probably would not constitute a danger to the safety of officers, property, or other interests of the United States. . . . The Board further recommends that this subject be considered a suitable candidate for state hospital care if suitable arrangements can be made." In May 1954 petitioner was transferred to the custody of the State of Ohio where he was again examined by the psychiatrist who had made the examination when petitioner was transferred to the District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in 1952. This time the psychiatrist found that petitioner "is now in a state of remission equivalent to a recovery. He is not now insane in the legal sense." Petitioner was then released by the Ohio authorities.
Petitioner was rearrested in Ohio under the original indictment, which was still pending, and on June 16, 1954, removed to the Western District of Missouri. On June 18, counsel appointed for petitioner moved the court to appoint at least one qualified psychiatrist to inquire into petitioner's mental competency and to hold a hearing for that purpose. Two psychiatrists were appointed and were directed to report to the court. Petitioner was also recommitted to the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri, for further examination.
The hearing on petitioner's sanity was held on July 15. The two psychiatrists appointed by the court testified [350 U.S. 366, 372] that in their belief petitioner was sane. The first three reports of the Medical Center were received in evidence, along with a fourth, a report of the Neuropsychiatric Staff of the Medical Center at Springfield, dated July 8, 1954. This latest report concluded "that the subject remains legally insane by reason of a major mental disorder which would prevent him from having a proper understanding of the proceeding pending against him and which also impairs his ability to properly assist in his own defense." The staff further concluded "that this subject's prognosis for recovery appears to be poor and that he will probably require indefinite hospitalization to insure his own safety and that of society. The staff does not consider the subject to be potentially dangerous except to the extent that if released, he might persist in engaging in criminal activities similar to those with which he is presently charged." The Chief of the Psychiatric Service at the Medical Center testified at this hearing to the same effect.
The District Court, in its order of July 30, found that the accused was insane and so mentally incompetent that he could not stand trial, that, if released, he would probably endanger the safety of the officers, property, or other interests of the United States, and that no suitable arrangements for custody and care, other than commitment to the custody of the Attorney General, were available. Petitioner was therefore committed to the custody of the Attorney General until his sanity should be restored, or his mental condition so improved that, if released, he would not endanger the safety of the officers, property, or other interests of the United States, or until suitable arrangements could be made for the custody and care of defendant by Ohio, the State of his residence. 125 F. Supp. 777, 778. Petitioner appealed from this judgment and the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, its seven circuit judges sitting en banc, affirmed, one judge dissenting. [350 U.S. 366, 373] 219 F.2d 376. Because of the important issue of federal power raised by the case and because of conflicting views in the Courts of Appeals, compare Higgins v. United States, 205 F.2d 650, and Wells v. Attorney General, 201 F.2d 556, with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in this case, we granted certiorari. 350 U.S. 821 .
A detailed history of the legislation is set forth in the opinion of the Court of Appeals. 219 F.2d, at 380-384. It is sufficient to note here that the bill was proposed by the Judicial Conference of the United States after long study by a conspicuously able committee, followed by consultation with federal district and circuit judges.
The statute deals comprehensively with those persons charged with federal crime who are insane or mentally incompetent to stand trial. It provides a procedure for determination of such insanity or mental incompetence, and further provides for commitment of those found to be insane or mentally incompetent. Petitioner's assertion that the statute deals only with the problem of temporary mental disorder is not supported by the language of the statute, and the report of the Committee of the Judicial Conference clearly indicates that the statute was designed to deal with mental disability which seems more than temporary:
We reach then the narrow constitutional issue raised by the order of commitment in the circumstances of this case. The petitioner came legally into the custody of the United States. The power that put him into such custody - the power to prosecute for federal offenses - is not exhausted. Its assertion in the form of the pending indictment persists. The District Court has found that the accused is mentally incompetent to stand trial at the present time and that, if released, he would probably endanger the officers, property, or other interests of the United States - and these findings are adequately supported. In these circumstances the District Court has entered an order retaining and restraining petitioner, while in his present condition, with habeas corpus always available when circumstances warrant. This commitment, and therefore the legislation authorizing commitment in the context of this case, involve an assertion of authority, duly guarded, auxiliary to incontestable national power. As such it is plainly within congressional power under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Art. I, 8, cl. 18.
The fact that at present there may be little likelihood of recovery does not defeat federal power to make this initial commitment of the petitioner. We cannot say that federal authority to prosecute has now been irretrievably frustrated. The record shows that two court-appointed psychiatrists found petitioner sane and competent for trial. While the District Court did not accept their conclusion, their testimony illustrates the uncertainty of diagnosis in this field and the tentativeness of professional judgment. The only certain thing that can be said about the present state of knowledge and therapy regarding mental disease is that science has not reached finality of judgment, even about a situation as unpromising as petitioner's at least as indicated by the report of the United States Medical Center at Springfield. [350 U.S. 366, 376] Certainly, denial of constitutional power of commitment to Congress in dealing with a situation like this ought not to rest on dogmatic adherence to one view or another on controversial psychiatric issues.
We decide no more than the situation before us presents and equally do not imply an opinion on situations not now before us. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is
[ Footnote 2 ] SEC. 4246: "Whenever the trial court shall determine in accordance with sections 4244 and 4245 . . . that an accused is or was mentally incompetent, the court may commit the accused to the custody of the Attorney General or his authorized representative, until the accused shall be mentally competent to stand trial or until the pending charges against him are disposed of according to law. And if the court after hearing as provided in the preceding sections 4244 and 4245 shall determine that the conditions specified in the following section 4247 exist, the commitment shall be governed by section 4248 as herein provided."
[ Footnote 3 ] SEC. 4247: "Whenever the Director of the Bureau of Prisons shall certify that a prisoner whose sentence is about to expire has been examined by the board of examiners referred to in . . . section 4241, and that in the judgment of the Director and the board of examiners the prisoner is insane or mentally incompetent, and that if released he will probably endanger the safety of the officers, the property, or other interests of the United States, and that suitable arrangements for the custody and care of the prisoner are not otherwise available, the Attorney General shall transmit the certificate to the clerk of the court for the district in which the prisoner is confined. . . . If upon such hearing the court shall determine that the conditions specified above exist, the court may commit the prisoner to the custody of the Attorney General, or his authorized representative."
[ Footnote 4 ] SEC. 4248: "Whenever a person shall be committed pursuant to section 4247 . . . his commitment shall run until the sanity or mental competency of the person shall be restored or until the mental condition of the person is so improved that if he be released he will not endanger the safety of the officers, the property, or other interests of the United States, or until suitable arrangements have been made for the custody and care of the prisoner by the State of his residence, whichever event shall first occur. . . Provided, however. That nothing herein contained shall preclude a prisoner committed under the authority of section 4247 hereof from establishing his eligibility for release under the provisions of this section by a writ of habeas corpus. The Attorney General or his authorized representative shall have authority at any time to transfer a prisoner committed to his custody under the authority of section 4246 or section 4247 hereof to the proper authorities of the State of his residence." [350 U.S. 366, 377]