C.A. 5th Cir. Reported below: 725 F.2d 679.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, dissenting.
"There is no higher duty of a court, under our constitutional system, than the careful processing and adjudication of petitions for writs of habeas corpus, for it is in such proceedings that a person in custody charges that error, neglect, or evil purpose has resulted in his unlawful confinement and that he is deprived of his freedom contrary to law." Harris v. Nelson, 394 U.S. 286, 292 (1969). Because the proceedings in this case have fallen intolerably short of fulfilling this duty, and because this Court must be vigilant in ensuring that lower courts do not improperly cut corners in administering the Great Writ, I respectfully dissent from the Court's denial of certiorari.
The petitioner Harold Vincent was convicted in 1974 of armed robbery and second-degree murder by a jury in Vernon Parish, Louisiana. Vincent's trial had been delayed for over two years while he underwent evaluation and treatment for schizophrenia. This mental illness was so severe that psychiatrists at the Louisiana State Penitentiary General Hospital had certified that Vincent did not meet the constitutional standard of triability in that he could neither "realiz[e] the nature of the charges against him" nor properly "assist his attorney." 1 Record 17, 18. After intensive treatment with psychotropic drugs, particularly Thorazine, these psychiatrists notified the trial court that, so long as Vincent remained on his regulated dosage, he would have the mental capacity to proceed with trial. Id., at 18. They emphasized at Vincent's pretrial sanity hearing that Vincent was dependent on Thorazine and that it was "almost a sure thing" that he would revert to episodes of psychosis if he stopped taking the medication. Id., at 64; see also id., at 20-23.
According to Vincent's subsequent habeas petition, which Vincent prepared with the assistance of an inmate paralegal:
"On July 6, 1974, petitioner was transferred from the Louisiana State Penitentiary to Vernon Parish without any of his
medication. Petitioner immediately inquired with Vernon Parish officials about his medication, but no one seemed to know anything about it. Consequently, on the morning trial was scheduled to commence, petitioner intentionally cut his leg to get to the hospital to see someone about receiving some Thorozine [sic]. When he appeared in court with his pants leg rolled up and a rag wrapped around his lower leg, petitioner's mother and sisters became upset and rushed to talk with him. After petitioner told them the reason he cut his leg, they talked with petitioner's trial attorneys, William E. Tilley and Chris Smith, III, concerning the likelihood of petitioner receiving some Thorozine [sic]. Petitioner's attorneys brought the matter to the attention of the trial court, and after a few preliminary motions were argued, Judge Terrell ordered Vernon Parish officials to bring petitioner to the hospital.
"Petitioner was taken to the Leesville General Hospital where his leg was bandaged and he was given a shot. Petitioner explained his condition to the doctor that treated him, but was informed that it was against hospital regulations to prescribe Thorozine [sic] to him. Petitioner was returned to the courthouse for continuation of the proceedings against him. Throughout his trial . . . petitioner was without his prescribed medication, Thorozine [sic]. He was convicted as charged and . . . sentenced to a term of life imprisonment." Id., at 9-10.
Vincent claimed that, as a result of this alleged deprivation of Thorazine, he was "mentally incompetent" during the trail in that he was unable "to maintain his ability to consult with his attorney and understand the proceedings against him." Id., at 10.
After Vincent filed his federal habeas petition, the District Court ordered the State to submit a response. Ten months passed before the State, prompted by the court's threat summarily to grant the petition, see id., at 36, finally filed an answer. The State denied Vincent's material allegations and, in the alternative, asserted that "[a]ssuming the facts to be as alleged by the defendant he knew exactly what he was doing in an attempt to get the medication that he desired" and thereby manifested his competence. Id., at 44-45, 57.
Without holding an evidentiary hearing or otherwise inquiring into the merits of Vincent's allegations ...