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COMMONWEALTH EX REL. ROOSEVELT BENJAMIN v. JAMES HOWARD (02/05/85)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


decided: February 5, 1985.

COMMONWEALTH EX REL. ROOSEVELT BENJAMIN, PETITIONER
v.
JAMES HOWARD, SUPERINTENDENT, STATE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENT

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the case of Commonwealth ex rel. Roosevelt Benjamin v. James Howard, Superintendent, State Correctional Institution, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Attorney General, No. Misc. 658 July Term, 1980.

COUNSEL

Joseph Sabino Mistick, for petitioner.

Jose' Hernandez-Cuebas, Senior Deputy Attorney General, with him, Andrew S. Gordon and Allen C. Warshaw, Senior Deputy Attorneys General, and LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General, for respondent.

Judges Rogers and Williams, Jr. and Senior Judge Kalish, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Rogers.

Author: Rogers

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 342]

Roosevelt Benjamin (appellant) has appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County refusing the prayer of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus which would effect his release from the State Correctional Institution at Pittsburgh (SCIP). In the petition, which Benjamin prepared, it is alleged that because the Bureau of Corrections has failed to segregate prisoners with histories of mental illness from the general prison population, he is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The named respondents are the Superintendent of SCIP and the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

The hearing judge appointed counsel to represent the appellant and conducted a hearing. At the hearing, counsel for the appellant, citing Section 3 of the Act of May 10, 1921, P.L. 433, as amended, 61 P.S. ยง 3, which requires that prisoners "who are found to be mentally weak shall be segregated from the other prisoners," asked the trial court to treat the appellant's petition for a writ of habeas corpus as a petition for a writ of mandamus and to order the respondents to enforce the statute.

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 343]

After hearing the testimony of a psychiatrist and a clinical psychologist employed at SCIP, who were called by the appellant, the trial judge found that the Act of May 10, 1921 was being observed at SCIP and that the appellant had not proved that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment.

On appeal the appellant first contends that the trial court committed an error of law by refusing to treat his petition for a writ of habeas corpus as a petition for a writ of mandamus. His principal authority for this proposition is Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972), a case much different from this. In Haines, the petitioner, an inmate at the Illinois State Penitentiary, filed an inartfully drawn complaint alleging violations of his civil rights. The District Court granted the State respondents' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court reversed, holding that pro se complaints are to be held to less stringent pleading standards than those drafted by lawyers and that the District Court should not have dismissed the petitioner's complaint without hearing the petitioner's evidence. The appellant Benjamin's petition for writ of habeas corpus is not ineffectively drafted; it clearly bases its prayer for relief on the claim that he is subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by reason of the failure of the respondents to segregate mentally weak inmates. The trial court appointed effective counsel who ably adduced the testimony of witnesses in the petitioner's behalf. We find no merit in the contention that Haines v. Kerner required the hearing judge to act otherwise than he did in this case.

The appellant next contends that the trial court committed an error of law by refusing to issue the writ of habeas corpus. We disagree.

[ 87 Pa. Commw. Page 344]

    other restrictive housing, and that inmates who are found to be dangerous to themselves or others are transferred to another institution.

Order affirmed.

Order

And Now, this 5th day of February, 1985, the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in the above-captioned matter is affirmed.

Disposition

Affirmed.

19850205

© 1998 VersusLaw Inc.



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