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Carr v. State

Supreme Court of Georgia

June 18, 2018

CARR
v.
THE STATE.

          NAHMIAS, JUSTICE.

         On May 31, 2017, the trial court in this case ordered the sheriff to take Ricky Lee Carr into custody solely because Carr had been charged with committing violent crimes and found mentally incompetent to stand trial. The court directed that Carr be transferred to and held by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities for evaluation within 90 days as to whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain competency in the foreseeable future. In this appeal, Carr contends that this detention by the State violates his constitutional right to due process.

         Carr's due process challenge to the statute that required his detention - OCGA § 17-7-130 (c) - can be divided into two parts. He argues first that the duration of the confinement allowed by the statute - which, he asserts, could be indefinite - is unconstitutional. We agree that indefinite or even unreasonably extended detention under § 17-7-130 (c) would be unconstitutional, but we do not agree that the statute permits such extended detention. Instead, to avoid that constitutional concern, we construe § 17-7-130 (c) as limiting the detention it authorizes to the reasonable time needed to fulfill its purpose. And because Carr initiated this appeal shortly after he was ordered to be detained, he has not as of yet shown on the record that the duration of his confinement is unreasonable.

         Carr also argues that the mandatory nature of his confinement based on § 17-7-130 (c) is not reasonably related to the State's legitimate and important purpose of accurately determining whether a defendant can be restored to competency to be tried. Carr says this is so because the statute requires that all defendants found incompetent after being accused of violent crimes, but not those accused of other crimes, be detained for evaluation regardless of the characteristics or circumstances of the particular defendant's mental condition. We agree that such automatic detention without an individualized determination of whether the confinement reasonably advances the government's purpose violates a defendant's right to due process, and we therefore hold that this part of § 17-7-130 (c) cannot be applied constitutionally to Carr or similarly situated defendants who are not already being detained on another, lawful ground.

          For these reasons, which are explained in much greater detail below, we reverse the part of the trial court's judgment holding that OCGA § 17-7-130 (c) is constitutional, vacate the part of the judgment ordering Carr to be detained for inpatient evaluation, and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         1. Background

         Ricky Lee Carr was arrested on June 16, 2016; he was released on bond the same day. About five months later, on November 9, 2016, a Catoosa County grand jury returned an indictment charging Carr with rape, aggravated sexual battery, two counts of child molestation, and criminal attempt to commit a felony.[1] On November 29, the trial court signed a consent order for the evaluation of Carr's competency to stand trial. Dr. Sam Perri from the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (the "department") evaluated Carr and then filed a report with the trial court on March 9, 2017. Dr. Perri concluded that Carr is not competent to stand trial. He explained that Carr is in the "mild/moderate range of intellectual functioning" and has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Dr. Perri further explained that although Carr seems to understand the charges presented against him, he does not appear to understand the possible consequences if he is found guilty, he does not understand courtroom procedure or the roles of court personnel, and he does not have the cognitive abilities to assist in his defense. Dr. Perri also reported:

In view of Mr. Carr's low intellectual functioning there is a strong probability that he would not be able to be restored to competency. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that there should be an attempt to restore Mr. Carr to competency. If the court adjudicates Mr. Carr as not competent it is recommended that his restoration occur in a community setting rather than in a psychiatric facility. If this occurs, I have a staff person that will coordinate a restoration to competency program for Mr. Carr. Mr. Carr's mother also stated that she would assist in ensuring that Mr. Carr participates in a restoration program.

         On April 27, 2017, Carr filed a petition to seek the restoration of his competency in a community (outpatient) setting. The petition also raised constitutional challenges to OCGA § 17-7-130, the Georgia statute governing pleas of mental incompetence to stand trial, claiming that insofar as the statute requires him to be placed in custody for attempted competency restoration, it deprives him of due process and of equal protection of the laws in violation of the United States and Georgia Constitutions. The court then held two hearings on Carr's competency. At the first hearing on April 28, the court admitted Dr. Perri's report and found Carr incompetent to stand trial based on the report. The court then announced, "it appears to me that I have to transfer custody to the department." In response, Carr's counsel reiterated his constitutional challenges to OCGA § 17-7-130.[2]

         At the second hearing, on May 31, 2017, the trial court began by explaining that Carr had been found incompetent and was not contesting that finding, so the question to be decided was "what we do with the next stage with Mr. Carr." Carr again raised his constitutional challenges to OCGA § 17-7-130, arguing that because he was out on bond, it would be a violation of his due process and equal protection rights to order him into custody merely because he has been found incompetent to stand trial. The State argued that the statute is constitutional and that Carr's constitutional challenges were untimely because he had not raised them at the first opportunity or with sufficient clarity. Later that day, the trial court issued an order finding that Carr is incompetent to stand trial and holding summarily that his constitutional challenges were timely raised and that OCGA § 17-7-130 does not violate constitutional due process or equal protection. The order also directed the sheriff to take custody of Carr and deliver him to the department, which was directed to evaluate and diagnose within 90 days of the order whether there is a substantial probability that Carr can attain mental competency to stand trial in the foreseeable future.[3]

         On June 8, 2017, the trial court entered a certificate of immediate review of its order. Carr then filed an application for interlocutory appeal, which this Court granted on August 2.[4] Carr filed a notice of appeal on August 11, and after the case was docketed and briefed, the Court heard oral arguments on December 11.[5]

          2. The statute

Under OCGA § 17-7-130 (b) (1),
If an accused files a motion requesting a competency evaluation, the court may order the department to conduct an evaluation by a physician or licensed psychologist to determine the accused's mental competency to stand trial and, if such physician or licensed psychologist determines the accused to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, to make recommendations as to restoring the accused to competency.

         The statutory provision in dispute here, § 17-7-130 (c), then says, in relevant part:

If the court finds the accused is mentally incompetent to stand trial, the court may order a department physician or licensed psychologist to evaluate and diagnose the accused as to whether there is a substantial probability that the accused will attain mental competency to stand trial in the foreseeable future. The court shall retain jurisdiction over the accused and shall transfer the accused to the physical custody of the department. At its discretion, the court may allow the evaluation to be performed on the accused as an outpatient if the accused is charged with a nonviolent offense. Such evaluation shall be performed within 90 days after the department has received actual custody of an accused or, in the case of an outpatient, a court order requiring evaluation of an accused .....

OCGA § 17-7-130 (a) (7) defines "[n]onviolent offense" as "any offense other than a violent offense, " and § 17-7-130 (a) (11) (A) defines "[v]iolent offense" to include "(i) A serious violent felony; (ii) A sexual offense; (iii) Criminal attempt to commit a serious violent felony; [and] (iv) Criminal attempt to commit a sexual offense . . . ."[6]

         If the evaluation shows that the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial, "the department shall immediately report that determination" and return the defendant to the court, with the defendant remaining in the custody of the sheriff, the court's detention facility, or the department's secure facility. OCGA § 17-7-130 (c) (1). See also id. (d) (explaining that if the department "determines at any time" that the defendant is competent, he must be returned to the court, with custody maintained in the same way). If the evaluation shows that the defendant is mentally incompetent to stand trial but there is a substantial probability that the defendant will be restored to competency in the foreseeable future, he can continue to be held in the department's custody for up to nine more months to receive treatment. See id. (c) (3). If the evaluation shows that the defendant is unlikely to regain competency in the foreseeable future, within 45 days the court must consider a nolle prosequi of the pending charges and release the defendant or seek his civil commitment and commit or release him based on the outcome of the civil commitment trial. See id. (c) (2), (e).[7]

         It is clear that the trial court in this case did what the statute mandates: because Carr is charged with violent offenses, once the court found him mentally incompetent to stand trial, the court had no statutory discretion to consider Dr. Perri's recommendation of attempted restoration in an outpatient setting or any other evidence regarding Carr's mental condition, but rather was required to transfer Carr to the physical custody of the department to be detained there for up to 90 days while he was evaluated. The question we will address is whether that statutorily mandated confinement at a government institution complies with the constitutional requirement of due process.[8]

         3. The Interests of Carr and the State

         "In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial or without trial is the carefully limited exception." United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739, 755 (107 S.Ct. 2095, 95 L.Ed.2d 697) (1987). Indeed, "the most elemental of liberty interests [is] the interest in being free from physical detention by one's own government." Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 542 U.S. 507, 529 (124 S.Ct. 2633, 159 L.Ed.2d 578) (2004) (plurality). See also Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 80, (112 S.Ct. 1780, 118 L.Ed.2d 437) (1992) ("'It is clear that commitment [to a mental institution] for any purpose constitutes a significant deprivation of liberty that requires due process protection.'" (citation omitted)); id. at 90 (Kennedy, J., dissenting) ("As incarceration of persons is the most common and one of the most feared instruments of state oppression and state indifference, we ought to acknowledge at the outset that freedom from this restraint is essential to the basic definition of liberty in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution."); Hood v. Carsten, 267 Ga. 579, 581 (481 S.E.2d 525) (1997) (explaining that "[b]ecause a bond revocation involves the deprivation of one's liberty, . . . the trial court's decision to revoke bond must comport with at least minimal state and federal due process requirements").

         Before he was found incompetent to stand trial and ordered detained for further evaluation under OCGA § 17-7-130 (c), Carr retained this "strong liberty interest, " Salerno, 481 U.S. at 750, as he was a free man. He had been arrested almost a year earlier, but released on bond the same day. Although accused of crimes defined as "violent offenses" under § 17-7-130, Carr is, of course, presumed innocent until proven guilty, and his detention was not based on any judicial finding that he poses a danger to himself, to anyone else, or to the community in general. No evidence showing his dangerousness was presented at the § 17-7-130 hearings. To the contrary, the fact that he was granted bail meant that a judge had found that he "[p]oses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community, " OCGA § 17-6-1 (e) (2), and nothing in the record suggests that Carr had done anything to justify changing that finding or had violated his bond in any way. A finding of mental incompetence to stand trial does not equate to a finding of dangerousness to self or others. See Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 727-728 (92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435) (1972).[9]

         Nevertheless, in some limited circumstances, pretrial detention is permissible as a regulation serving a legitimate and "sufficiently compelling" government interest. Salerno, 481 U.S. at 748-749. Detention may be "permissible regulation, " rather than "impermissible punishment, " if it is "rationally . . . connected" to a non-punitive purpose and it is not excessive in relation to that purpose. Id. at 747 (citations and quotation marks omitted). In an opinion addressing another state's statute that required a defendant who was found mentally incompetent to stand trial to be committed to a mental institution until he was made competent, the United States Supreme Court explained the applicable due process test in this way: "At the least, due process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed." Jackson, 406 U.S. at 738 (emphasis added).

         The apparent non-punitive purpose of detention based on OCGA § 17-7-130 (c) is to accurately evaluate whether the defendant's competency can be restored so that he can be tried. See id. ("[A] department physician or licensed psychologist [will] evaluate and diagnose the accused as to whether there is a substantial probability that the accused will attain mental competency to stand trial in the foreseeable future."). That is a legitimate and important government interest. See Warren v. State, 297 Ga. 810, 826 (778 S.E.2d 749) (2015) (explaining that "'[t]he Government's interest in bringing to trial an individual accused of a serious crime is important'" and includes both a "'substantial interest in timely prosecution'" and "'a concomitant, constitutionally essential interest in assuring that the defendant's trial is a fair one'" (quoting Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166, 180 (123 S.Ct. 2174, 156 L.Ed.2d 197) (2003)). Thus, for defendants like Carr, we must determine whether there is a reasonable relation between this government purpose and both the duration and the nature of the commitment depriving them of their liberty. See Jackson, 406 U.S. at 738. We will address those two aspects of the detention required by § 17-7-130 (c) in turn.

         4. Duration ...


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