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decided: June 28, 1972.


Appeal from judgment of sentence of Court of Common Pleas, Trial Division, of Philadelphia, April T., 1968, No. 2052, in case of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Virginia Barnes.


Steven M. Dranoff, with him Spivack & Dranoff, for appellant.

Judith Dean, Assistant District Attorney, with her Milton M. Stein, Assistant District Attorney, James D. Crawford, Deputy District Attorney, Richard A. Sprague, First Assistant District Attorney, and Arlen Specter, District Attorney, for Commonwealth, appellee.

Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Roberts. Mr. Chief Justice Jones and Mr. Justice Pomeroy took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Roberts

[ 448 Pa. Page 301]

We are today asked to determine the proper construction of Section 410(c)*fn1 of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966.*fn2 The issue presented is this: After having plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, the defendant is committed under Section 410(c) to a state mental hospital for a period not to exceed six years, but before the expiration of six years no longer requires care and treatment for mental disability and is discharged from the mental institution,

[ 448 Pa. Page 302]

    is the defendant entitled to outright release or still subject to the balance of the six-year sentence imposed? We hold that such a defendant is properly transferred to an appropriate penal institution for compliance with the original sentence.

Appellant Virginia S. Barnes plead guilty on January 30, 1969, to an indictment charging her with voluntary manslaughter. Sentence was delayed until August 26, 1969, pending the completion of a pre-sentence report. On that date appellant was committed to the Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry under Section 410(c) with a direction that her mental condition be reviewed within six months. On April 9, 1970, the trial court sentenced appellant to serve a term not to exceed six years pursuant to the provisions of Section 410(c).

After appellant was committed for approximately a year, it became the professional judgment of the Superintendent of the Philadelphia State Hospital that she no longer required psychiatric care and treatment at a mental institution. On May 28, 1971, after a hearing, Judge Doty*fn3 vacated the April 9, 1970, decree and ordered appellant to serve the balance of her six-year sentence in the State Correctional Institution at Muncy.*fn4 Appellant appealed.

[ 448 Pa. Page 303]

In contending that she is entitled to outright release after it was determined that she was no longer in need of psychiatric care and treatment at a mental institution, appellant places primary reliance upon the heading to Section 410. The heading reads: "Commitment in lieu of sentence of person adjudged guilty of crime."*fn5 Appellant argues that a literal reading of that heading evidences a legislative intent to have commitment take the place of sentencing. Her purported syllogism goes as follows: Because commitment takes the place of sentencing, when commitment is no longer necessary, defendant is entitled to unconditional release.*fn6

[ 448 Pa. Page 304]

Reading all the appropriate Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 provisions relating to criminal defendants together as a unitary scheme, as we are required to do, the result appellant suggests cannot properly be sustained.

Indeed Section 410(c), principally relied upon by appellant, by its own language specifically refutes the construction appellant urges. That section reads in pertinent part: "[T]he court may so commit him [defendant] in lieu of sentence for such a period . . . until further order of the court. . . ." (Emphasis added.) If the Legislature intended that a criminal defendant with mental disabilities who was committed after being found guilty at trial or entry of a plea of guilty was entitled to outright release upon termination of the necessity of commitment for psychiatric care and treatment, there would have been no need for specific legislation directing that the trial court retain jurisdiction over defendant.*fn7 The Legislature by specifically continuing jurisdiction with the court could only have intended that if before the expiration of the defendant's sentence he no longer needed the care and treatment

[ 448 Pa. Page 305]

    available in a mental hospital, the court retained the power to have defendant comply with the sentence imposed.*fn8

That the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 cannot sustain appellant's contention that she need not serve the balance of her sentence is readily demonstrated by the act's provisions for two other categories of criminal defendants. If a criminal defendant prior to trial is committed under Sections 407*fn9 and 408,*fn10 Section 409*fn11 makes clear that "criminal proceedings against him shall be stayed." (Emphasis added.) Similarly under Section 411*fn12 a criminal defendant found guilty and incarcerated in a penal institution may because of mental disabilities be transferred to a mental hospital. If, however, the convicted defendant recovers and no longer needs care and treatment in a mental hospital, "he shall be retransferred to the custody

[ 448 Pa. Page 306]

    of the bureau to serve his sentence."*fn13 (Emphasis supplied.) It would indeed be anamolous to hold that criminal defendants, committed to a mental hospital either before trial or after imprisonment, upon release from the hospital must still face the sanctions of the criminal process, while at the same time concluding that this appellant satisfied her six-year sentence of imprisonment by confinement to a mental hospital for a period of one year. We find no statutory or other basis for such a manifestly unjust and unusual result.

Yet another specific example of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966's treatment of all criminal defendants in precisely the same manner is found in Section 424.*fn14 That section provides penal sanctions for all criminal defendants who escape from a mental institution while committed regardless of whether they were committed prior to trial, after trial but before imprisonment as in this case, or during imprisonment.

It is clear from a reading in pari materia of all sections of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 dealing with criminal defendants that the relevant sections were meant to supplement, not replace, the orderly criminal and sentencing process. The clear objective of these salutory provisions is that whenever it becomes apparent during any stage of the criminal process that a defendant is in need of commitment for treatment and care of mental disabilities, such treatment is made available. The comprehensive Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act of 1966 by providing for commitment in a mental hospital for treatment and care in instances of mental disability merely designates the facility where defendant is to be confined during the period of such mental illness. Thus in the instant

[ 448 Pa. Page 307]

    case appellant's discharge from the mental hospital did not constitute satisfaction of the entire sentence imposed but only resulted in credit towards the sentence for the time she was hospitalized.

The judgment of sentence is affirmed.


Judgment of sentence affirmed.

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