The Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS) filed a lawsuit on behalf of 22 John Does under New York Civil Practice Law and Rules § 70, a state habeas corpus statute, against the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Facility in the New York County Supreme Court. The plaintiffs were represented by the MHLS and asked for conditional release, claiming that they had been civilly committed in contravention of state law and the United States Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiffs claimed that they were not afforded notice or a hearing prior to civil commitment to an inpatient psychiatric facility immediately following their convictions, as required by Corrections Law § 404, and the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Between September 23 and November 22, 2005, the State of New York Department of Correctional Services began civilly committing sex offenders whose sentences were almost expired, without a hearing or notice, to the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Facility. The timing of the transfer was carefully coordinated so that the actual committal occurred after the prisoner's had been 'released,' but before the prisoners had a chance to be released from custody. Corrections Law § 404 required a committal to a psychiatric facility to be accompanied by a predetermination hearing and notice to the prisoners if they were still serving their sentences. 22 people were committed under this scheme. Thereafter, Mental Hygiene Legal Services, a division of the state created by law, filed two habeas corpus actions the New York County Supreme Court, seeking relief for 22 prisoners who had been committed to secured and unsecured facilities.
On November 15, 2005, the Court (Judge Jacqueline Silbermann) ordered the release of the first 12 plaintiffs, and ordered the defendant to initiate immediate civil commitment proceedings or relinquish custody of the first 12 plaintiffs (809 N.Y.S.2d 836).
On February 6, 2006, the trial Court granted the habeas corpus petitions of the second 11 plaintiffs, finding that the prisoners were entitled to the protections of Corrections Law § 404 and due process (814 N.Y.S.2d 892). The Court ordered the Kirby facility to produce the patients for hearings, or in the alternative, to release them.
On March 30, 2006, the Appellate Division, First Department (Judge Malone) reversed the Supreme Court's order in the first case, finding that the controlling law was not appropriate (812 N.Y.S.2d 496). On July 27, 2006, the Appellate Division also reversed the Supreme Court's finding the in the second case (819 N.Y.S.2d 499).
On March 14, 2007, The New York Legislature intervened and passed Mental Hygiene Law § 10 Sex Offender Management and Treatment Act (SOMTA). The act established a system of civil management to civilly confine and/or closely supervise sex offenders who are about to be released from prison and also improved the treatment available to incarcerated sex offenders. The act also created the Office of Sex Offender Management within the Division of Criminal Justice Services.
On June 5, 2007, the Court of Appeals (Judge Graffeo) reversed the Appellate Division's rulings and found the new § 10 controlling and retroactive to the plaintiffs' case (870 N.E.2d 128). The Court of Appeals then ordered the case remanded to the New York County Supreme Court for § 10 proceedings.
As a result of the June 5, 2007 ruling, 123 individuals, including the plaintiffs, were re-evaluated by the Office of Mental Health under the new procedures. Of these, 60 met the criteria for civil management under § 10 and were referred to the Attorney General's office for possible litigation. The last of these cases was referred in December 2007. Blase Kearney - 05/15/2012
Anna Jones - 03/14/2016