Case Law Developments: Federal Circuit Court Decisions

Developments in Mental Health Law, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Case Law Developments: Federal Circuit Court Decisions


Probation Supervision of Sex Offenders and Delegation of Judicial Authority: Fifth Circuit rules District Court's probation requirement that the offender comply with "unspecified lifestyle restrictions" imposed by the offender's therapist during supervised release constitutes an unauthorized delegation of judicial authority and the oral sentencing pronouncement controls when in conflict with the written record.

United States v. Morin, No. 15-50197, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14549 (5th Cir. Aug. 8, 2016).

Background: Robert Morin pleaded guilty to failing to register as a sex offender as required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA). The district court sentenced Morin to 33 months of imprisonment and five years of supervised release. Morin challenged two conditions of his supervised release. He contended that the district court impermissibly delegated judicial authority by directing that Morin comply with unspecified "lifestyle restrictions" that might be imposed by a therapist throughout the term of his supervised release. He contended that the breadth of this requirement permitted a therapist, not the court, "to decide the nature and extent of the punishment imposed." Morin additionally argued that the written requirement that he abstain from the use of alcohol during his term of supervised release was not included in the district court's oral pronouncement of the sentence, making it invalid.

Holding: The Fifth Circuit agreed and vacated the two challenged conditions.

Notable Point:

Scope of conditions of supervised release: The Fifth Circuit emphasized that only courts have the authority to impose conditions of supervised release beyond the mandatory restrictions. The court agreed that the manner and means of therapy during treatment may be devised by therapists. Therapists and other non-judicial actors could forward to the court recommendations for new conditions.

Medical Care and Substantive Due Process Violations in Correctional Facilities: Seventh Circuit rules that a plaintiff may submit into evidence a DOJ report showing "systemic flaws" in the jail's medical care of inmates under the hearsay exception for "factual findings from legally authorized investigations."

[Editor's note: While the substandard care addressed in this case did not involve mental health care, the court's ruling has important implications for litigation involving mental health care in public facilities.]

Daniel v. Cook Cnty., No. 15-2832, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 14886 (7th Cir. Aug. 12, 2016).

Background: Alex Daniel was a pretrial detainee when he suffered multiple fractures in his wrist after falling during a basketball game. Daniel was initially treated by an on-duty general practitioner with an elastic bandage and a sling and after a delay was eventually treated by an orthopedic specialist. Daniel was placed in a long arm cast, which was replaced by a short arm cast three weeks later. The orthopedic specialist instructed Daniel to return in another three weeks to have the short arm cast removed; however, Daniel's cast was not removed until ten weeks later. During this delay, Daniel filed multiple grievances with the jail staff seeking treatment for his wrist. Daniel was examined by another orthopedist who concluded that Daniel suffered from "residual and permanent stiffness of his left hand and wrist," more likely than not caused by the long immobilization in the short arm cast. Daniel filed suit and offered as evidence a report from the DOJ detailing systemic health care problems at the jail. The district court granted summary judgment for defendant Cook County ruling that the DOJ report was inadmissible hearsay.

Holding: The Seventh Circuit ruled that the DOJ report met the requirements for a presumption of admissibility in civil cases for "factual findings from a legally authorized investigation" under the Federal Rules of Evidence. …

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