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Foucha v. Louisiana

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant was found not guilty by reason of insanity for aggravated burglary and illegal discharge of a firearm. Defendant was committed to a mental institution until doctors determined that he was able to be released. Against the superintendent’s recommendation, the trial judge denied Defendant’s release. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed. Defendant petitioned the United States Supreme Court to allow his release due to violations of due process and equal protection.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An individual institutionalized because he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity may be institutionalized by the state until he has shown to the satisfaction of the court that he is sane and is no longer a danger to society.

    Facts.

    Foucha (Defendant) was charged by the state of Louisiana with aggravated burglary and illegal discharge of a firearm, but was found not guilty at his trial by reason of insanity. He was then committed to a mental institution in Louisiana until doctors determined that he was able to be released. The superintendent of the institution recommended that he be released, but the trial judge’s panel of doctors determined that he was “too dangerous” to himself and to others to warrant a release because of his antisocial personality. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed this refusal of release, and Defendant petitioned the United States Supreme Court to allow his release due to violations of due process and equal protection. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

    Issue.

    Whether individuals in Louisiana are deprived of their right to be released from mental institutions without a proper hearing concerning their sanity and ability to cooperate with proper social standards.

    Held.

    Yes. Defendant must be granted another release hearing that follows constitutional maxims more closely and accurately. An individual institutionalized because he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity may be institutionalized by the state until he has shown to the satisfaction of the court that he is sane and is no longer a danger to society.

    Discussion.

    Generally, a state may not commit a person to a mental institution unless it is determined that that person “is mentally ill and requires hospitalization for his own welfare and protection of others.” However, a person may be committed to an institution automatically after having been found not guilty of a crime due to insanity. Once the individual is no longer a danger to himself or to others, he is entitled to be released from the institution. The way that the Louisiana institution kept Defendant from being released was unfair under both due process and equal protection. The reason for his continued detainment at the institution was not because he was a danger to himself or to the community, but because he was antisocial, a common personality type that cannot be helped by medicine or treatment. Many free people have similar personalities and are allowed to walk as freely as people who do not have antisocial personalities.  Defendant is being treated differently from others, and his rights under the equal protection clause are being violated.  The hearings for release are also not proper, as the institution is looking for reasons to keep someone institutionalized rather than looking for reasons to free them as they should. 


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