Baxstrom v. Herold

LOCATION: Antinook Mill

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 383 US 107 (1966)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1965
DECIDED: Feb 23, 1966

Facts of the case


Media for Baxstrom v. Herold

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 09, 1965 in Baxstrom v. Herold

Earl Warren:

Number 219, Johnnie K. Baxstrom, Petitioner versus R. E. Herold, Director, Dannemora State Hospital.

Mr. Polsky.

Leon B. Polsky:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Essentially, this case involves the question of the rights to be awarded to the mentally ill and the procedures whereby their mental illness is determined and they are placed in custody.

Mr. Baxstrom was convicted of a crime in the State of New York and he received a sentence of two-and-a-half to three years.

After completing service of that sentence, he was committed to the state hospital where he presently is in custody having served far in excess of the original criminal sentence which was imposed on him.

At the time of his commitment, he appeared before the Surrogate's Court in Clinton County.

He received notice that a commitment proceeding was being instituted against him.

He was afforded a hearing of sorts.

He was not offered counsel.

He was not represented by counsel.

And he took no real part in the proceedings other than to indicate that he did not believe he belonged in the institution to which he was going to dissent.

Thereafter, he sued out several writs of habeas corpus, the last of which has reached this Court.

We claim that the commitment of the petitioner after the exploration of this criminal sentence was the kind of proceeding to which the right to counsel attaches.

We claim this as a right to counsel under the Fourteenth Amendment.

We claim this right to counsel as a specific incident to the due process right to notice and hearing.

We maintain that there is no hearing and can be no hearing in a case of this type if the man is not represented by counsel.

Looking specifically at the record which shows the kind of commitment proceeding we have in this case, Mr. Baxstrom was given notice that he was going to appear in the Surrogate's Court on December 6, 1961.

He appeared there without counsel.

The trial judge had already read the certificates of two physicians who were independent of the hospital and when the state law had examined him.

Neither those physicians testified at this hearing, yet their certificates were instrumental in having Mr. Baxstrom committed and their certificates with the basis upon which the finding of mental illness was made.

In their certificates, two physicians stated that Mr. Baxstrom possibly had a tendency to be dangerous.

I am not certain what this means but I certainly would hope that had there been an attorney there to represent Mr. Baxstrom at this commitment, he might have developed that possibly has a tendency to be dangerous is not a committable state of being in the State of New York.

In a subsequent habeas corpus hearing, a position testified that he had examined petitioner and found basically that the petitioner was an epileptic and diagnosed, there was no objective sign of this but he diagnosed that there might be brain damage or brain deterioration flowing from the epilepsy and then he described Baxstrom's condition that the patient was irritable, confused, and aggressive after his epileptic seizures like all other epileptics.

Now, I am not trying to re-litigate or litigate because this has never been litigated, the question of whether this man is or is not insane or, was or was not insane.

Abe Fortas:

Did it say, “Like all epileptics?”

Leon B. Polsky:

I beg your pardon?

Abe Fortas:

Does the doctor's script could say, “Like all epileptics?”

Leon B. Polsky:

Yes, Your Honor.

That was the testimony of Doctor Kerr, which I quote -- it was in the proceeding on the first writ, which is record page 27, I believe sir.