JACKSON V. INDIANA, 406 U. S. 715 (1972)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715 (1972)

Jackson v. Indiana

No. 70-5009

Argued November 18, 1971

Decided June 7, 1972

406 U.S. 715


The Indiana procedure for pretrial commitment of incompetent criminal defendants set forth in Ind.Ann.Stat. § 9-1706a provides that a trial judge with "reasonable ground" to believe the defendant to be incompetent to stand trial must appoint two examining physicians and schedule a competency hearing, at which the defendant may introduce evidence. If the court, on the basis of the physicians' report and "other evidence," finds that the defendant lacks "comprehension sufficient to understand the proceedings and make his defense," the trial is delayed and the defendant is remanded to the state department of mental health for commitment to an "appropriate psychiatric institution" until defendant shall become "sane." Other statutory provisions apply to commitment of citizens who are "feeble-minded, and are therefore unable properly to care for themselves." The procedures for committing such persons are substantially similar to those for determining a criminal defendant's pretrial competency, but a person committed as "feeble-minded" may be released "at any time" his condition warrants it in the judgment of the superintendent of the institution. Indiana also has a comprehensive commitment scheme for the "mentally ill," i.e., those with a "psychiatric disorder" as defined by the statute, who can be committed on a showing of mental illness and need for "care, treatment, training or detention." A person so committed may be released when the superintendent of the institution shall discharge him, or when he is cured. Petitioner in this case, a mentally defective deaf mute, who cannot read, write, or virtually otherwise communicate, was charged with two criminal offenses and committed under the § 9-1706a procedure. The doctors' report showed that petitioner's condition precluded his understanding the nature of the charges against him or participating in his defense, and their testimony showed that the prognosis was "rather dim"; that, even if petitioner were not a deaf mute, he would be incompetent to stand trial; and that petitioner's intelligence was not sufficient to enable him ever to develop the necessary communication skills. According to a deaf school interpreter's testimony, the State had no facilities that could help petitioner

Page 406 U. S. 716

learn minimal communication skills. After finding that petitioner "lack[ed] comprehension sufficient to make his defense," the court ordered petitioner committed until such time as the health department could certify petitioner's sanity to the court. Petitioner's counsel filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. The State Supreme Court affirmed. Contending that his commitment was tantamount to a "life sentence" without his having been convicted of a crime, petitioner claims that commitment under § 9-1706a deprived him of equal protection because, absent the criminal charges against him, the State would have had to proceed under the other statutory procedures for the feeble-minded or those for the mentally ill, under either of which petitioner would have been entitled to substantially greater rights. Petitioner also asserts that indefinite commitment under the section deprived him of due process and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.


1. By subjecting petitioner to a more lenient commitment standard and to a more stringent standard of release than those generally applicable to all other persons not charged with offenses, thus condemning petitioner to permanent institutionalization without the showing required for commitment or the opportunity for release afforded by ordinary civil commitment procedures, Indiana deprived petitioner of equal protection. Cf. Baxstrom v. Herold, 383 U. S. 107. Pp. 406 U. S. 723-731.

2. Indiana's indefinite commitment of a criminal defendant solely on account of his lack of capacity to stand trial violates due process. Such a defendant cannot be held more than the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain competency in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that he will not, the State must either institute civil proceedings applicable to indefinite commitment of those not charged with crime or release the defendant. Greenwood v. United States, 350 U. S. 366, distinguished. Pp. 406 U. S. 731-739.

3. Since the issue of petitioner's criminal responsibility at the time of the alleged offenses (as distinguished from the issue of his competency to stand trial) has not been determined, and other matters of defense may remain to be resolved, it would be premature for this Court to dismiss the charges against petitioner. Pp. 406 U. S. 739-741.

253 Ind. 487, 255 N.E.2d 515, reversed and remanded.

Page 406 U. S. 717

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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