JONES V. UNITED STATES, 463 U. S. 354 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354 (1983)

Jones v. United States

No. 81-5195

Argued November 2, 1982

Decided June 29, 1983

463 U.S. 354


Under the District of Columbia Code, a criminal defendant may be acquitted by reason of insanity if his insanity is affirmatively established by a preponderance of the evidence. He is then committed to a mental hospital and within 50 days thereafter is entitled to a judicial hearing to determine his eligibility for release, at which he has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous. The Code also provides that the acquittee is entitled to a judicial hearing every six months at which he may establish by a preponderance of the evidence that he is entitled to release. Petitioner was charged in the District of Columbia Superior Court with attempted petit larceny, a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum prison sentence of one year. The Superior Court found petitioner not guilty by reason of insanity and committed him to a mental hospital. At his subsequent 50-day hearing, the court found that he was mentally ill and constituted a danger to himself or others. A second release hearing was held after petitioner had been hospitalized for more than one year, the maximum period he could have spent in prison if he had been convicted. On that basis, he demanded that he be released unconditionally or recommitted pursuant to the civil commitment procedures under the District of Columbia Code, including a jury trial and clear and convincing proof by the Government of his mental illness and dangerousness. The Superior Court denied his request for a civil commitment hearing, reaffirmed the findings made at the 50-day hearing, and continued his commitment. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed.

Held: When a criminal defendant establishes by a preponderance of the evidence that he is not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity, the Constitution permits the Government, on the basis of the insanity judgment, to confine him to a mental institution until such time as he has regained his sanity or is no longer a danger to himself or society. Pp. 463 U. S. 361-370.

(a) A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity is sufficiently probative of mental illness and dangerousness to justify commitment of the acquittee for the purposes of treatment and the protection of society. Such a verdict establishes that the defendant committed an act constituting a criminal offense, and that he committed the act because of mental

Page 463 U. S. 355

illness. It was not unreasonable for Congress to determine that these findings constitute an adequate basis for hospitalizing the acquittee as a dangerous and mentally ill person. The fact that a person has been found, beyond a reasonable doubt, to have committed a criminal act certainly indicates dangerousness. Nor is it unreasonable to conclude that an insanity acquittal supports an inference of continuing mental illness. The 50-day hearing assures that every acquittee has prompt opportunity to obtain release if he has recovered. Pp. 463 U. S. 363-366.

(b) Indefinite commitment of an insanity acquittee, based on proof of insanity by only a preponderance of the evidence, comports with due process. Addington v. Texas, 441 U. S. 418, held that the government, in a civil commitment proceeding, must demonstrate by clear and convincing evidence that the individual is mentally ill and dangerous. However, the concerns critical to that decision -- based on the risk of error that a person might be committed for mere "idiosyncratic behavior" -- are diminished or absent in the case of insanity acquitees, and do not require the same standard of proof in both cases. Proof that the acquittee committed a criminal act as a result of mental illness eliminates the risk that he is being committed for mere idiosyncratic behavior. Pp. 463 U. S. 366-368.

(c) An insanity acquittee is not entitled to his release merely because he has been hospitalized for a period longer than he could have been incarcerated if convicted. The length of a sentence for a particular criminal offense is based on a variety of considerations, including retribution, deterrence, and rehabilitation. However, because an insanity acquittee was not convicted, he may not be punished. The purpose of his commitment is to treat his mental illness and protect him and society from his potential dangerousness. There simply is no necessary correlation between the length of the acquittee's hypothetical criminal sentence and the length of time necessary for his recovery. Pp. 463 U. S. 368-369.

432 A.2d 36, affirmed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 463 U. S. 371. STEVENS, J., fled a dissenting opinion, post, p. 463 U. S. 387.

Page 463 U. S. 356

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