By Jessica Dye
NEW YORK, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A New York appeals court has
blocked a provision that would allow officials to seek the
temporary confinement of a man who had been in a secure mental
facility without a recommitment order.
Robert T. was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter by
reason of mental disease or defect in 1996 and confined to a
secure mental facility.
Years after he was conditionally discharged, a judge
approved an order containing a provision allowing state
officials to seek to temporarily confine Robert T. to perform a
psychiatric evaluation if he failed to abide by his
court-ordered treatment plan or voluntarily appear for an
State officials cannot seek the confinement of an insanity
acquittee without first applying for and receiving a
recommitment order, the Appellate Division, Second Department,
held on Wednesday. Attempts to do so could deprive him of his
due process rights, the majority found.
Under New York State Criminal Procedure Law 330.20(14), a
defendant must have advance notice and the opportunity to be
heard before a court grants an order to recommit. Prosecutors or
state mental-health authorities can seek an order of
recommitment if they believe a released defendant has a
"dangerous mental disorder" and should be reconfined.
"The creation of wholly new mechanisms of enforcement that
mimic procedures prescribed by statute and regulation, but lack
the same procedural safeguards, is unwarranted and troubling
from a due process perspective," Justice Leonard Austin wrote
for the majority. He was joined by Justices Sandra Sgroi and
Robert T., 64, had a "long psychiatric history," according
to the decision. In 1995, he drove his car into oncoming traffic
in a purported suicide attempt and wound up killing the driver
of the car he hit, the ruling said. He was confined to a secure
mental facility after being found not responsible for
second-degree manslaughter by reason of mental defect or
In 2002, Robert T. was released pursuant to an order of
conditions, which outlined the conditions of his release,
including a treatment plan.
State officials moved to extend the order in 2010. They also
asked a judge to add a provision stating that the Office of
Mental Health "shall apply to the court for a temporary
confinement order for the purpose of conducting an effective
psychiatric examination in a secure facility," if Robert T.
refused to comply with the order or appear for a psychiatric
After Dutchess County Supreme Court Justice Christine Sproat
approved the amended order, Robert T. sought a writ of
prohibition to block the temporary confinement provision from
In granting Robert T.'s application, the Second Department
said that the disputed provision "improperly establishes an ex
parte enforcement proceeding for addressing violations of the
amended order of conditions."
In dissent, Justice Reinaldo Rivera agreed with state
officials that a temporary confinement order could serve as a
less intrusive alternative to recommitment proceedings.
"It is simply another means to avert an insanity acquitee's
potential degeneration or devolution into a 'dangerous mental
disorder,'" Rivera wrote.
The New York attorney general's office, which represented
Sproat, the Ulster County district attorney and the state Office
of Mental Health, declined to comment. A lawyer for Robert T.
and a spokeswoman for the Ulster County district attorney also
declined to comment. A spokesman for the Office of Mental Health
did not immediately return a request for comment.
The case is In the Matter of Robert T. v. Sproat, Appellate
Division, Second Department, No. 2011-3469.
For Robert T.: Lesley De Lia and Dennis Feld, of the Mental
Hygiene Legal Services.
For Sproat and OMH: Susan Anspach.
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