Vitek v. Jones

LOCATION: Congress

DOCKET NO.: 78-1155
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 445 US 480 (1980)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1979
DECIDED: Mar 25, 1980

Melvin Kent Kammerlohr - on behalf of the appellants
Thomas A. Wurtz - on behalf of the appellee

Facts of the case

Legislative consolidation of the possibility of applying medical measures in relation to a person who has committed socially dangerous acts provided for by criminal law objectively reflects the concern of the legislator about the possible negative consequences of detecting certain diseases in such a person. The logic of such anxiety is simple: a number of diseases are known to medicine, which is dangerous both for society as a whole and for a particular person.

It is for this reason that the legislator, subjecting a person to a punishment, must take measures of medical protection. Forced treatment is a special kind of state coercion, a special measure of social protection against the actions of mentally ill people. To prisoners sentenced to deprivation of liberty, suffering from mental disorders that do not exclude sanity, the court decree applies compulsory measures of a medical nature by institutions that carry out these types of punishment. This measure was the basis for this case brief.

In the framework of this case study, the inmate was found to be mentally ill and to be transferred to a psychiatric institution for further treatment. However, all procedures were carried out without prior warning of the convicted person and his lawyer, and without further hearing the case. The case was reviewed by the Supreme Court, and the court ruled that such actions really violate the constitutional order, and also restrict the rights and freedoms of the prisoner. This precedent allowed the development of a new criminal procedure regulating the transfer of a prisoner to a clinic for psychiatric treatment, observing his rights as a prisoner, patient, and citizen.


Media for Vitek v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1979 in Vitek v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 25, 1980 in Vitek v. Jones

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment of the Court in 78-1155, of Vitek, Correctional Director against Jones will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This case is here on appeal from a three-judge District Court with the District of Nebraska.

The question is whether a state prisoner is entitled to a hearing when he is declared to be suffering from a mental disease or defect and transferred to a mental hospital for a treatment that is not available in the prison.

The three-judge court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires a hearing and specified the procedures to be included in -- in the hearing including a holding that counsel was required.

Because of the question of mootness, we postponed the -- the question of jurisdiction to the merits and heard oral argument.

As indicated in an opinion on file with the clerk, a majority of five justices holds that the case is not moot.

We then agree with the district court that under the Due Process Clause, a prisoner about to be transferred to a mental hospital is entitled to notice and a hearing, to be present, offer testimony and cross-examined, and they'll have an independent maker and a written statement of the evidence and the reasons for the transfer.

Four of us, Justices Brennan, Marshall, Stevens, and I, also agree with the District Court that the prisoner is entitled with the help of counsel.

Mr. Justice Powell, however, has indicated in his separate opinion concurring in part would require a competent help for the prisoner but not necessarily a licensed attorney.

The judgment of the District Court is accordingly modified in this respect and is modified that it is affirmed.

Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Blackmun have filed dissenting opinions on the jurisdictional aspect of the case.

The Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have joined Mr. Justice Stewart.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.