Delay in commitment proceedings justified by acquittee’s misconduct

United States v. Conrad, 776 F.3d 253 (4th Cir. 2015).

Defendant-appellant Samuel Robert Conrad III, currently serving an eight-year term of imprisonment, appealed both the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss commitment proceedings arising from a 2007 insanity acquittal (arising from a separate set of offenses) and the district court’s order to delay those commitment proceedings until he is released from prison. At issue for the Fourth Circuit on Appeal was 18 U.S.C. § 4243, which provides the “procedural framework for the evaluation and commitment of defendants adjudicated NGI.”

Initially, Conrad’s § 4243 hearing following the 2007 acquittal resulted in the district court’s imposition of a conditional release, which was subsequently revoked when Conrad was charged by the Commonwealth of Virginia for the murder of his sister-inlaw. Conrad appealed the revocation of his conditional release, and the order originally granting it was vacated by the Fourth Circuit in 2010 based on that court’s determination that the language of § 4243 “allows only two forms of disposition--unconditional release or indefinite commitment; it does not authorize conditional release.” A new hearing was thus required under § 4243(e), but never actually took place because in 2013 Conrad was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances—charges which lead to his current incarceration. When Conrad moved to dismiss the pending § 4243 commitment proceedings arising from the prior case (arguing that § 4243 was no longer applicable to him because he could not pose a threat to public safety while incarcerated), the district court denied his motion, ordering instead that a delay of the proceedings until Conrad completes his current term of imprisonment would best serve the statute's purposes.”

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Conrad’s motion to dismiss as well as the order delaying the § 4243 proceedings. In affirming the denial of the motion to dismiss, the Fourth Circuit held that § 4243 “applies on its face to NGI acquittees” and “unambiguously requires a hearing to determine commitment or release,” and so in the absence of any “provision permitting nullification of the statute's applicability through subsequent commission of crime and incarceration,” the district court was within its discretion to refuse dismissal of the § 4243 hearing. Further, the Fourth Circuit held that the delay ordered by the district court was permissible, confronting the timing requirement of § 4243(c) which “requires a hearing within 40 days of the NGI verdict, which, under a separate provision, may be extended only by 30 days, and only by the director of the facility to which the acquittee has been committed.” The Fourth Circuit stated that both parties agreed that there is at least one implicit exception to the 40-day requirement of § 4243(c) and cited to other opinions in which a delay greater than 40 days was allowed and found to be justified due to “circumstances outside of the acquittee's control--such as a commitment facility's inadequate resources to promptly conduct the evaluation.” Given this precedent, the Fourth Circuit stated that a delay would “would seem even more fitting” in circumstances within the acquittee’s control and held that because Conrad “has been the principal architect of the delay he faces, and such delay is reasonable under the statute when the acquittee is serving a term of incarceration” the district court did not err in delaying the proceeding.

Found in DMHL Volume 34 Issue 1