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State v. B.C. State

Supreme Court of Vermont

June 17, 2016

State of Vermont
v.
B.C. State of Vermont
v.
D.H.

         Supreme Court On Appeal from Superior Court, Bennington Unit, Criminal Division David A. Howard, J.

          Christina Rainville, Bennington County Chief Deputy State's Attorney, and Alexander Burke, Deputy State's Attorney, Bennington, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

          Matthew F. Valerio, Defender General, and Joshua O'Hara, Appellate Defender, Montpelier, for Defendants-Appellees.

          William H. Sorrell, Attorney General, and Benjamin D. Battles and Elizabeth M. Tisher, Assistant Attorneys General, Montpelier, for Intervenor-Appellee Department of Health.

          David W. Gartenstein, Windham County Deputy State's Attorney, Brattleboro, for Amicus Curiae Office of the Windham County State's Attorney.

          PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Eaton, JJ.

          EATON, J.

         ¶ 1. This is an appeal by the State[1] concerning mental health orders involving D.H. and B.C. The State's Attorney contends it was entitled to be heard on its motions for continued treatment at the expiration of mental health orders regarding D.H. and B.C., who had been charged with criminal offenses. The criminal division found the State's Attorney had no standing to seek continued treatment at the expiration of a mental health treatment order and denied the State's motion. We affirm.

         ¶ 2. D.H. was charged with simple assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.[2] After arrest, D.H. was examined for sanity and competency. Based upon the examination, the parties stipulated that D.H. was insane at the time of the offense and to a ninety-day order of non-hospitalization (ONH) based upon D.H. being a person in need of treatment as defined in 18 V.S.A. § 7101(17). The January 29, 2015 order included a provision in accordance with 13 V.S.A. § 4822(a) stating that, because the charges involved personal injury, the court ordered a hearing be held before D.H. was discharged from the care and custody of the Commissioner of Mental Health.

         ¶ 3. On April 24, 2015, a few days before the ONH was to expire, the State's Attorney filed a request for a hearing to continue treatment beyond the ninety-day order and to stay D.H.'s discharge pending a hearing.[3] The State also requested copies of D.H.'s treatment records from the Department of Mental Health. The Department did not seek a further ONH by filing an application for continued treatment. The court denied the State's request for continued treatment, determining that only the Department has the authority to request a hearing on extending a ninety-day order. 18 V.S.A. § 7620.

         ¶ 4. In January 2015, B.C. was charged with simple assault and aggravated disorderly conduct. He was subsequently examined and found to be incompetent to stand trial on those charges. A stipulated ONH was issued on March 24, 2015, for a period not to exceed ninety-days. The order contained the same provision for a hearing prior to discharge pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 4822(a) as was in the D.H. order.

         ¶ 5. In early June 2015, before B.C.'s March ONH expired, B.C. became the subject of several additional charges arising out of his conduct at the nursing home where he was staying. Bail was set and B.C. was incarcerated. The State's Attorney filed a request for emergency hospitalization in the January criminal docket before the March ONH expired. The State's request for emergency hospitalization was opposed by the Commissioner of Mental Health, who filed a motion to dismiss. The Commissioner did not seek an order extending treatment.

         ¶ 6. Before the hearing on State's requested emergency hospitalization could be heard, the March ONH expired. The court denied the emergency hospitalization request, granting the Commissioner's motion to dismiss, and again ruling that the State's Attorney was not authorized to seek an extension of treatment. Citing to its ruling in D.H.'s case, the court again ruled that only the Commissioner could request an order of further treatment, while noting that the only motion actually pending was one for emergency treatment which became moot upon the expiration of the March ONH. The State contends the hearing prior to discharge required by § 4822(a) was "simply never held."[4]

         ¶ 7. The State appeals the denial of its motion for a hearing on continued treatment in D.H. and the granting of the Commissioner's motion to dismiss in B.C. In addition, the State raises a claim on appeal that the Department of Mental Health unlawfully discriminates in the case of incompetent defendants by treating them in disparate fashion based upon the cause of their disability.

         ¶ 8. There are two distinct paths by which persons may become subject to Vermont's mental health laws: Title 18 or Title 13. Under Title 18, a person who is not the subject of criminal proceedings may enter the mental health system either voluntarily or involuntarily pursuant to Vermont's mental health laws as set forth in Chapter 179. See 18 V.S.A. § 7501 et seq. Under Title 13, a person subject to criminal proceedings may enter the mental health system through Chapter 157, where competency, sanity, or both are at issue in connection with the criminal charges. See 13 V.S.A. § 4801 et seq. For those charged with a criminal offense that are found either ...


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