URQUHART V. BROWN, 205 U. S. 179 (1907)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Urquhart v. Brown, 205 U.S. 179 (1907)

Urquhart v. Brown

No 22

Argued March 7, 1907

Decided March 18, 1907

205 U.S. 179


Although the power exists and will be exercised in case of great importance and urgency, a federal court or a federal judge will not ordinarily interfere by habeas corpus with the regular course of procedure under state authority, but will leave the petitioner to exhaust the remedies afforded by the state for determining whether he is legally restrained of his liberty, and then to bring his case to this Court by writ of error under § 709, Rev.Stat.; this rule applies to a case where petitioner contends that his commitment under a state statute, providing for the commitment of one acquitted by reason of insanity, is a deprivation of liberty without due process of law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

139 F.8d 6 reversed.

This appellee, Brown, was charged in the Superior Court of Lewis County, Washington, with the crime of murder, and was acquitted. The verdict of the jury was: "We, the jury, find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity."

The verdict having been entered of record, an order was made which recited that the court, by reason of the verdict, the evidence, the proceedings in the trial, and the demeanor of the defendant,

"finds that the discharge or going at large of said Thomas Brown would be and is considered by the court as manifestly dangerous to the peace and safety of the community;"

also that he be committed to the county jail until the further order of the court.

In making this order, the court acted on the authority of a statute of Washington, as follows:

"When any person indicted or informed against for an offense shall, on trial, be acquitted by reason of insanity, the jury, in giving their verdict of not guilty, shall state that it was given for such cause, and thereupon, if the discharge or going at large of such insane person shall be considered by the court manifestly dangerous to the

Page 205 U. S. 180

peace and safety of the community, the court may order him to be committed to prison, or may give him into the care of his friends, if they shall give bonds, with surety to the satisfaction of the court, conditioned that he shall be well and securely kept; otherwise he shall be discharged."

Bal.Code, § 6959.

Subsequently, the accused, being in the custody of the sheriff under the above order, made an original application to the Supreme Court of Washington on the thirteenth day of June, 1905, for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that he was unlawfully detained and imprisoned in that the statute under which he was held was in violation of both the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and of the Constitution of the state.

The Supreme Court of Washington, by its final judgment, entered July 14, 1905, held that the statute was constitutional and that the order of the trial court was in strict conformity with its provisions. In re Brown, 39 Wash. 160. That court accordingly denied his application to be discharged. That appellee then, on July 18th, 1905, made application to the circuit court of the United States for the Western District of Washington for a writ of habeas corpus. In his answer to this application, the sheriff, having the appellee in custody, referred to the proceedings in the supreme court of the state, and alleged that the mental condition or capacity of the applicant was in no wise different or improved than it was on the twenty-third of December, 1904, at the time he killed his father. That court granted the writ, and, the case being heard, the court, by its final order, entered January 10, 1906, discharged the appellee from custody. The circuit judge held that the statute, although constitutional, was not properly administered by the superior court in rendering its judgment, and that the imprisonment of the petitioner with sanction of the judiciary of the state, without arraignment, and a fair opportunity to defend himself against charges lawfully preferred and to produce evidence in his defense, was deprivation

Page 205 U. S. 181

of his liberty by the state without due process of law, and violated the national Constitution, and for that reason the application for the writ of habeas corpus was granted. 139 F.8d 6.

The order of commitment under which the appellee was held was adjudged by the circuit court to be illegal and void, but the judgment was without prejudice to any lawful proceeding to have the prisoner restrained if he should be adjudged to be a dangerous person by reason of insanity. From that judgment, the present appeal was prosecuted.

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