Winchester v. Bartlett

In Winchester v. Bartlett, 532 So.2d 1258 (Ala. 1988), while affirming a trial court's decision that an insanity acquittee should not be released, the Court of Civil Appeals of Alabama stated: The release of an insanity acquittee in the Alabama mental health system is usually initiated by his treatment team. Several factors are considered, including "mental state, dangerousness, satisfactory placement, and whether the acquittee can be trusted to take his medication." Williams v. Wallis, 734 F.2d 1434, 1436 (11th Cir.1984). If the treatment team does not initiate release, however, 15-21-3, Ala.Code 1975 (1982 Repl.Vol.), is available, which provides for the prosecution of a writ of habeas corpus by "any person confined as insane." An insanity acquittee must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he is no longer mentally ill or dangerous in order to prevail in the habeas proceeding. Williams v. Wallis, supra; Knight v. State, 460 So.2d 876 (Ala.Crim.App.1984). Whether the acquittee is mentally ill at the time he seeks release is a medical question. But whether he is dangerous is a question that involves not only medical opinion but also a legal and social judgment. Powell v. Florida, 579 F.2d 324 (5th Cir.1978). The dangerousness of an insanity acquittee is established by his antisocial behavior in committing a crime, and as the Fifth Circuit noted in Powell, "this past conduct justifies a greater role for the trial judge in determining whether an insanity acquittee remains dangerous to society in order to protect society from similar behavior in the future." 579 F.2d at 333. Id. at 1259-60.