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decided: October 30, 1975.



Albert Ominsky, Philadelphia, for appellant.

F. Emmett Fitzpatrick, Dist. Atty., Steven H. Goldblatt, Asst. Dist. Atty., Philadelphia, for appellee.

Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Eagen and Pomeroy, JJ., concur in the result.

Author: Roberts

[ 464 Pa. Page 504]


This appeal arises from appellant John McQuaid's commitment in Farview State Hospital since 1960 because of his incompetency to stand trial. The hearing court held that appellant's confinement could be continued without a civil commitment hearing. We vacate the hearing court's order and remand for further proceedings.

Appellant was involved in a stabbing incident on March 7, 1960, and was subsequently charged with murder. However, on March 11, 1960, after a hearing in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was ordered committed. Appellant's first rehearing occurred on February 22, 1974, pursuant to his own motion to commence trial. Appellant was recommitted by the hearing court despite a contrary recommendation by the Psychiatric Division of the Probation Department.

On April 29 and May 3, 1974, the court held an additional hearing to determine what action if any should be taken pursuant to Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 92 S.Ct. 1845, 32 L.Ed.2d 435 (1972), which held that a defendant could not be committed indefinitely solely because he was incompetent to stand trial. At this hearing three medical experts testified that appellant, because of his paranoid schizophrenia, was potentially dangerous to himself and others and would probably never become competent to stand trial. Thus, appellant's incompetency caused what amounted to an indefinite commitment. However, the court, after considering differences in Pennsylvania and Indiana law, concluded that the rule in Jackson did not affect appellant's case. It ordered appellant committed until he either becomes competent to stand trial or ceases to be dangerous to himself or others.

[ 464 Pa. Page 505]

Appellant raises three claims: (1) that his commitment cannot continue under section 408 of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act (hereinafter "section 408")*fn1 (which provides for the commitment of those charged with crime but found incompetent to stand trial); (2) that the fifteen year delay in appellant's trial violates his constitutional right to a speedy trial; and (3) that his commitment is cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The hearing court denied relief on all three claims. We find appellant's first claim to be meritorious.


Appellant's first claim, that he may not be committed indefinitely under section 408, is based on the Supreme Court's decision in Jackson v. Indiana, supra. In that case, a mentally defective deaf mute charged with robbery was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a state mental institution, where he remained for three and a half years. The defendant could not read, write, or otherwise communicate, and the reviewing psychiatrists gave him little chance of gaining competency. Thus, his commitment under the incompetency law of Indiana was tantamount to an indefinite sentence.

Jackson challenged his commitment as a denial of both due process and equal protection. The Indiana statutory scheme permitted the indefinite pretrial commitment of persons charged with a criminal offense under standards for commitment and release that provided fewer safeguards than those applying to any other civil commitment. The United States Supreme Court held that such a scheme for allocating procedural and substantive safeguards to persons civilly committed was repugnant to the

[ 464 Pa. Page 506]

    equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn2 Furthermore, the Court agreed that the commitment violated due process:

". . . a person charged by a State with a criminal offense who is committed solely on account of his incapacity to proceed to trial cannot be held more than the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain that capacity in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that this is not the case, then the State must either institute the customary civil commitment proceeding . . . or release the defendant."

Jackson v. Indiana, supra 406 U.S. at 738, 92 S.Ct. at 1858.

Our determination in this case depends on the proper interpretation of the commitment, release, and treatment standards contained in the civil commitment provision (section 406) and the incompetency to stand trial provision (section 408) of the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Act*fn3 and the applicability of Jackson to those standards. The hearing court held that these standards were sufficiently similar to avoid any violation of the rule in Jackson. We cannot agree. The two statutory sections serve different purposes, have different commitment

[ 464 Pa. Page 507]

    and release standards, and must therefore be treated differently by the courts.

Commitment Standards

Section 408, under which appellant is committed, provides for the commitment of "a person who has been charged with crime [and] is detained in a penal or correctional institution . . . ."*fn4 The court must be

[ 464 Pa. Page 508]

"satisfied that the person is mentally disabled and that his commitment is necessary" prior to committing the defendant to a mental facility.*fn5

Section 102*fn6 which defines "mental disability" in general terms, is applicable to both section 408 and section 406:

"'Mental disability' means any mental illness, mental impairment, mental retardation, or mental deficiency, which so lessens the capacity of a person to use his customary self-control, judgment and discretion in the conduct of his affairs and social relations as to make it ...

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