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Foucha v. Louisiana

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Foucha was acquitted for burglary charges due to an insanity defense and subsequently institutionalized. Foucha appealed his eligibility to be released from the mental institution.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    A defendant who was institutionalized due to an insanity defense is not eligible for release until it is determined from the court that he is no longer a danger to others.

    Facts.

    Foucha was charged with aggravated burglary and the illegal discharge of a firearm in Louisiana. Foucha was not convicted, however, due to an insanity defense. Foucha was committed to a mental institution until doctors determined he was suitable for discharge. The superintendent of the mental institution determined that Foucha was eligible for discharge,  but the doctors appointed by the court determined that Foucha was not. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the decision not to release Foucha and the United States Supreme Court granted Certiorari.

    Issue.

    Whether individuals who are institutionalized can be prevented from being released if their sanity and danger to society has not been determined by the court?

    Held.

    Yes

    Dissent.

    (Kennedy, J.) The court should look at the maximum penalty for the crime committed before determining whether a defendant’s institutionalization violates due process. Foucha has been institutionalized less than the statutory maximum for burglary and the illicit discharge of a firearm, so the court did not violate Foucha’s right to be free.

    (Thomas, J.) By pleading insanity, the defendant is claiming the inability to appreciate the consequences of the crime committed. Therefore, it is the state’s responsibility to prevent the insanity defense from being overused in the commission of crimes. Thus if a defendant regains their sanity but is still a danger to society, the court should not be prevented from maintaining that person’s institutionalization.

    Concurrence.

    (O’Connor, J.) Even if a patient regains their sanity, some patients should remain in mental institutions due to their danger to others. If a patient is determined to be a danger to society then that person should not be released into society.

    Discussion.

    A person can be committed to a mental institution following the conclusion of a court case if the defendant plead insanity and was found not guilty of a crime or if the defendant was determined mentally ill and a danger to himself or others by the court. Louisiana denied Foucha’s release not because he was mentally ill and a danger to himself and others, but because he was antisocial, violating due process and equal protection.


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