United States v. Waters – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In United States v. Waters, 23 F.3d 29 (2nd Cir. 1994), the defendant was involuntarily hospitalized in 1979 "on a Two-Physicians Certificate, in accordance with New York Mental Hygiene Law § 9.27(a)." Id. at 30.

The court noted that, pursuant to New York law, "The director of a hospital may receive and retain therein as a patient any person alleged to be mentally ill and in need of involuntary care and treatment upon the certificates of two examining physicians, accompanied by an application for the admission of such person." Id.

The court also noted that an individual involuntarily admitted under New York law "may request a hearing on the question of the need for involuntary care and treatment 'at any time prior to the expiration of sixty days from the date of involuntary admission of the patient.'" Id.

Waters never requested or had a hearing. Id. In fact, sixty days following his involuntary admission, he "requested that his status be converted to voluntary status . . . ," and he was released seven months later. Id.

In November 1991, Waters was indicted for a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(4), based on his psychiatric hospitalization in 1979. Id. at 29-30.

He moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that his earlier hospitalization "did not constitute a 'commitment' to a mental institution" within the meaning of the federal statute, "because there was no judicial order of commitment." Id. at 30.

The district court denied the motion. Id.

On appeal, the court noted that, "while determination of the issue of whether the appellant 'was committed to a mental institution is a question of federal law,' a reviewing court may 'seek guidance from state law.'" Id. at 31.

It explained that "once state law has addressed the general question, the federal court must then consider if the outcome is consistent with federal policy." Id.

The court concluded that, under New York law, the right to a formal judicial proceeding was never triggered because the patient converted his hospitalization to a voluntary admission of prolonged duration. Id. at 34. Thus, the court was satisfied that the hospitalization amounted to a commitment. Id. at 36.