Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Commitment Issues

United States v. Magassouba, No. 06-2628-cr (2d Cir. September 19, 2008) (Parker, Raggi, Wesley, CJJ)

Defendant Magassouba has been in custody since at least August of 2003, when he was ordered detained on heroin trafficking charge that carried a ten-year mandatory minimum sentence. Between approximately January of 2004 and May of 2005 he was subject to various competency evaluations, all of which concluded that he was not competent to stand trial, but that he could be restored to competency through appropriate medication. Since Magassouba refused to take any medication, his evaluators recommended that he be medicated involuntarily.

Although the competency evaluations themselves ended in May of 2005, the district court’s final order in the matter, and subject of this appeal, was not entered until May of 2006. In that order, the court directed that Magassouba be re-hospitalized for continued treatment, and that he be forcibly mediated.

Magassouba raised a host of appellate challenges to his treatment by the BOP and the court.

1. Interlocutory Appeal

Magassouba first had to surmount the strict limitation on interlocutory appeals in criminal cases. Here, court had no trouble concluding that the appeal could be heard under the “collateral order doctrine.”

The circuit has long held that orders committing criminal defendants for competency proceedings are immediately appealable. Here, while Magassouba’s primary complaint was over the timeliness of the order, as opposed to its suitability, the collateral order doctrine still applies. The order at issue extended his period of commitment and directed his involuntary medication, and this brings it within the collateral order doctrine.

2. Timeliness

Magassouba’s main complaint was over the timeliness of the 2006 commitment order.

A few months after he was arrested, Magassouba was examined at the MDC by a private doctor, who pronounced him incompetent to stand trial due to a delusional disorder. In late 2004, after a hearing, the court ordered the BOP to hospitalize Magassouba under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1) at a suitable facility for treatment and evaluation. That section authorizes a commitment of up to four months, but the court committed him for only sixty days, then later extended it to four months, at the BOP’s request. Magassouba arrived at Butner in December of 2004, and the BOP issued its report in May of 2005.

This triggered more than a year of legal wrangling over the issue of involuntary medication. All parties agreed that it was advisable, but the court repeatedly asked for additional information and urged Magassouba to accept medication voluntarily. Finally, in June of 2006, the court entered an order pursuant to § 4241(d)(2)(A) ordering additional custodial treatment and involuntary medication.

On appeal, Magassouba claimed that this order was untimely because it was not entered within the four-month period authorized by the original commitment order under § 4241(d)(1). The circuit disagreed, holding that the four-month period of §4241(d)(1) is a limitation on the amount of time the BOP can hold a criminal defendant in custodial hospitalization for a competency or restoration determination. There is nothing in the statute that indicates that a district court lacks the jurisdiction to order additional hospitalization for treatment under § 4241(d)(2)(A) unless it acts within that four-month period.

3. Excess Hospitalization

Here, while it is true that the BOP hospitalized Magassouba for more than the statutory four-month period, it exceeded that limit by only a few weeks. On the circuit’s reading of the record, the custodial hospitalization did not commence until his December 22, 2004 arrival at Butner. The district court gave Butner until April 20, 2005, to complete the evaluation, but it was not finished until May 3, 2005, and Magassouba was returned to the MCC on May 12, 2005. Thus, the hospitalization overstay was only from April 20 to May 12.

Magassouba sought dismissal of the indictment over this, but the circuit found the BOP’s error in hospitalizing him for three extra weeks was harmless. He was, after all, otherwise detained, without objection, under the Bail Reform Act, and did not claim that he was subject to any greater restriction of his liberty at Butner than he would have experienced as a regular pretrial detainee. Moreover, and in any event, a dismissal remedy based on a violation of the statutory time periods is not authorized by the competency statutes.

4. Due Process Violation

Finally, Magassouba claimed that by May of 2006, when the district court entered the order continuing his treatment and authorizing involuntary medication, his continued confinement for the purpose of restoring competency was no longer reasonable, and hence violated due process.

The court agreed that the entire period of his confinement – from October of 2004, when he was first found incompetent, to the May 2006 order, a period of nineteen months – should be considered for due process purposes. The court also agreed that this was a “not insignificant” period of time. But nevertheless, it was not constitutionally unreasonable because much of that time was taken up with Magassouba’s refusal to accept treatment voluntarily, and with the district court’s subsequent need to address the sensitive due process concerns relating to involuntary medication.

In addition, for almost all of this time conscientious attention was being paid to Magassouba’s condition, either by the court of the BOP. In addition, up to May of 2006, his counsel never complained about the length of the confinement; rather, he actively supported it. And, finally, Magassouba did not claim any prejudice either with respect to his ability to gain competency or to defend the case at trial.

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