Virginia Court of Appeals Finds No Right to Jury Trial on Involuntary Medication Petition; Appeal Moot on Sufficiency of Evidence Issue

William Scott Ingram v. Commonwealth, 2013 Va. App. LEXIS 131 (April 23, 2013)
slip opinion at:

The Virginia Court of Appeals found no right to trial by jury on a hospital psychiatrist’s petition under Virginia Code § 37.2-1101 to involuntarily medicate an individual found not guilty by reason of insanity. The Court of Appeals also held that the appellant’s claim that forced medication violated his basic beliefs was moot because the circuit court’s 180-day order expired shortly before the Court heard his appeal. The Court, however, found the issue of his right to a jury trial was not moot because it was “subject to repetition, yet evading review.” The Court then proceeded to decide this issue on the merits finding no right to trial by jury under the United States and Virginia Constitutions or Virginia statutory law.

Ingram was found not guilty of malicious wounding by reason of insanity (“NGRI”) in the Martinsville Circuit Court in 1995 and has been periodically recommitted in accordance with Virginia law to various state psychiatric facilities, most recently Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute in Danville. Ingram has been diagnosed with various psychiatric conditions, including bipolar type schizoaffective disorder, narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder, and poly-substance dependence. When his father no longer agreed to serve as his son’s authorized representative for the purpose of making treatment decisions on his behalf, his psychiatrist first petitioned the Danville General District Court in 2009 for an order to involuntarily treat him with anti-psychotic medication pursuant to Virginia Code § 37.2-1101, which the court granted. Ingram appealed to the circuit court arguing in a de novo hearing that, among other things, the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law because the order violated his religious beliefs. On further appeal, the Court of Appeals dismissed the case as moot because the 180-day order had expired before the appeal was heard. Ingram v. Commonwealth, 2010 Va. App. LEXIS 254 (June 22, 2010)(unpublished), slip opn. at:

In 2012, Ingram’s psychiatrist again petitioned for involuntary court-ordered treatment. The general district court granted the petition and Ingram appealed to the circuit court demanding a trial by jury. Ingram also argued that the involuntary medication violated his religious beliefs or basic values. Unlike the previous appeal in which Ingram testified that medication violated his long-standing religious beliefs, he now states that he plays in a rock band, which is “sort of like a religion to [him].” The circuit court denied the request for a jury, conducted a de novo evidentiary hearing, and granted the petition. That 180-day order again expired before the appeal was heard. Under Virginia law, § 37.2-1102(3), an order authorizing treatment with anti-psychotic medication cannot exceed 180 days.

The Commonwealth moved to dismiss the appeal on the grounds of mootness. Relying on Chafin v. Chafin, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 1018 (2013), the Court of Appeals stated that a case becomes moot when the issue presented is no longer live, or “when the dispute is no longer embedded in actual controversy about the plaintiffs’ particular legal rights.” Already; LLC v. Nike, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 721, 726 (2013). Courts do not issue advisory opinions and will review such cases in very limited circumstances and only when the underlying controversy is capable of repetition, yet evading review. Va. State Police v. Elliott, 48 Va. App. 551, 554, 633 S.E.2d 203, 204 (2006). Such review should occur rarely and only in cases that are “short-lived by nature,” Daily Press, Inc. v. Commonwealth, 285 Va. 447, 452, __S.E.2d__(2013), and then only when the party seeking review can demonstrate that he will be subjected to the same illegal conduct.

In this case, the Court of Appeals found that Ingram’s claim that involuntary medication violated his personal beliefs and basic values was fact-based and challenged the sufficiency of the evidence. His claim in this case differed from the factual basis of his previous claim. Because the Court had no confidence that the fact pattern would remain the same, it declined to find that the claim met the capable of repetition, yet evading review doctrine.

On the right to jury trial issue, however, the Court found that Ingram, having been found NGRI nearly twenty years earlier, would likely be the subject of future treatment petitions, each of which could raise the same jury issue, but never be decided. The Court found that this claim presents a question of law unaffected by the facts underlying any given petition. Because the jury trial issue presents an exceptional situation that is capable of repetition, yet evading review, the Court proceeded to decide the issue.

On the merits, the Court of Appeals noted that neither the United States nor Virginia Constitutions afford the right to trial by jury. Although the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees the right to due process before deprivation of a liberty interest, here the right to avoid unwarranted medication, it does not include the right to trial by jury. Relying on Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 228 (1990), the Court found that a proceeding to order involuntary medication does not even require a judicial decision maker. The Court also found that although the Sixth Amendment guarantees a jury trial in all criminal prosecutions that could result in imprisonment for longer than six months, this proceeding is not criminal, but civil, and could not result in any incarceration. Further, although the Seventh Amendment also guarantees a right to trial by jury in suits at common law where more than $20 is in dispute, this right has never been applied to state court proceedings.

Under the Virginia Constitution, the Court found that the right to a jury trial applies only to proceedings for which the right to a jury trial existed when the Constitution was adopted. In this case, the statutory scheme was enacted well after the adoption of the Constitution and bears none of the indicia of a traditional common law proceeding. It does not attempt to affect the property rights of a patient or place him in the indeterminate custody of the state. “Instead, Code § 37.2-1101 represents a uniquely modern application of the parens patriae duty of the state to protect those ‘incapable of making an informed decision’ by attempting to ameliorate their illnesses in a manner consistent with the needs of society balanced with the deeply held religious or basic values of the individual.” Ingram v. Commonwealth, slip opn. at 9.

Finally, Ingram argues that Virginia Code § 8.01-336(D) affords him the right to trial by jury because his claim that the treatment is contrary to his religious beliefs and basic values which constitutes a plea in equity. Subsection D provides: “In any action in which a plea has been filed to an equitable claim, and the allegations of such plea are denied by the plaintiff, either party may have the issue tried by jury.” The Court reasons that this claim is not a plea in equity because such a plea is a discrete form of defensive pleading that does not address the merits of a case. Instead this plea raises a single set of facts that would be an absolute defense to a claim, such as the statute of limitations, res judicata, a release, or infancy. In this case, Ingram bears the burden of proving that the treatment is contrary to his religious beliefs or basic values. If he proves this, the burden then shifts to the Commonwealth to prove that the treatment is “necessary to prevent death or a serious irreversible condition.” The Court of Appeals held that this situation is different from the traditional plea in equity raising “a single state of facts or circumstances” and therefore the circuit court was not required to empanel a jury to decide the issue.

Found in DMHL Volume 32 Issue 2