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United States v. Coughlin

decided: August 6, 1975.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, No. 73 C 861 ABRAHAM L. MAROVITZ, Judge.

Fairchild, Chief Judge, Stevens and Sprecher, Circuit Judges.

Author: Fairchild

FAIRCHILD, Chief Judge.

Petitioner Frank Stachulak was committed to the custody of the Illinois Director of Corrections pursuant to the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act, Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 38, § 105-1.01 (Smith-Hurd 1970) et. seq., and confined at the Psychiatric Division of the Illinois State Penitentiary at Menard in 1969. Four years later he brought this action under the federal habeas corpus statutes, 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., and Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging both the lawfulness of his detention and the conditions of his confinement. The district court granted habeas corpus relief, Stachulak v. Coughlin, 369 F. Supp. 628 (N.D. Ill. 1973), and respondents, Illinois correctional officials, appeal. We affirm.


Under the Illinois Sexually Dangerous Persons Act, the state may seek an involuntary indeterminate institutional commitment in lieu of a criminal prosecution if a person is charged with a criminal offense and believed to be sexually dangerous. Ill. Ann. Stat., ch. 38, § 105-3. By the Act's terms, Id. § 105-1.01,

All persons suffering from a mental disorder, which mental disorder has existed for a period of not less than one year, immediately prior to the filing of the petition hereinafter provided for, coupled with criminal propensities to the commission of sex offenses, and who have demonstrated propensities toward acts of sexual assault or acts of sexual molestation of children, are hereby declared sexually dangerous persons.

Upon receipt of a petition alleging sexual dangerousness, a state circuit court appoints two psychiatrists to examine the person so charged. Id. § 105-4. The defendant is entitled to counsel and may demand a jury trial. Id. § 105-5. If, after a hearing, he is found to be sexually dangerous, he is committed to the custody of the Director of Corrections for care and treatment. Id. § 105-8. Once committed, a defendant can only secure his release by proving to the committing court that he is no longer sexually dangerous. Id. § 105-9.

The Act is silent as to what burden the state must meet to establish that a defendant is sexually dangerous. In accordance with the statute's designation that proceedings under the Act are "civil in nature," Id. § 105-3.01, the state trial judge instructed the jury that they could find Stachulak to be a sexually dangerous person if the state had proved its case by a preponderance of the evidence. Relying primarily on In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 25 L. Ed. 2d 368, 90 S. Ct. 1068 (1970), the district court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the state's case for commitment must be proven by the more stringent beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard applied in criminal actions. The court then ordered Stachulak enlarged unless within 60 days the state sought a renewed commitment order in proceedings in conformity to this holding.

Respondents contend on appeal that the reasonable doubt burden of proof is not constitutionally mandated for proceedings under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act.


Although neither of the parties questioned our appellate jurisdiction, it is incumbent upon us to address this issue, for it concerns our power to hear the case. See Carson v. Allied News Co., 511 F.2d 22, 23 (7th Cir. 1975).

The habeas corpus statutes follow the general rule that only final orders are subject to appellate review. 28 U.S.C. § 2253. Stachulak's complaint sought relief simultaneously under the habeas statutes, 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., and the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The district court granted the habeas relief but reserved ruling on the section 1983 claim pending further proceedings. The state appealed from the habeas order, but did not request and receive from the district judge an express determination, pursuant to Rule 54(b), Fed.R.Civ.P.,*fn1 that there was "no just reason for delay" and that final judgment should be entered. In the ordinary civil action involving multiple claims such a determination would be required for finality and appellate jurisdiction.

Through Rule 81(a)(2), Fed.R.Civ.P., the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are applicable to habeas corpus proceedings "to the extent that such practice in such proceedings is not set forth in statutes of the United States and has heretofore conformed to the practice in civil actions."*fn2 The draftsmen of the rule plainly did not intend that ipso jure all the civil rules were operative in habeas actions. "Such specific evidence as there is with respect to the intent of the draftsmen of the rules indicates nothing more than a general and nonspecific understanding that the rules would have very limited application to habeas corpus proceedings." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 295, 22 L. Ed. 2d 281, 89 S. Ct. 1082 ...

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