Foucha v. Louisiana
How dangerous does a person need to be in order for the government to keep them in a mental healthcare facility instead of letting them go free after being declared not guilty by reason of insanity? That's the question the Supreme Court had to look at in the case of Foucha v. Louisiana. In this case, a criminal defendant was kept by the state of Louisiana in a psychiatric hospital even after the doctors at the hospital had concluded his mental illness was temporary and no longer affected him. His lawsuit would set a standard for the commitment of criminals.
Foucha's Crime and Commitment
Terry Foucha was a man who abused drugs and alcohol frequently in his day to day life at the time of his crime in 1984. Foucha had gone into a home while carrying a gun, chased the terrified married couple inhabiting the home outside, and began to collect their belongings in order to steal them. Police arrived when Foucha was still in the house, and he was promptly arrested and booked.
However, psychiatric evaluation of Foucha showed that he had been in drug induced psychosis at the time when he committed the crime. While the drug induced psychosis had come to an end fairly soon after the incident, at the time when he was committing the crime Foucha's attorneys said that he had no ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. The trial court agreed with this assessment, and rather than imprisoning Foucha had him sent to a psychiatric hospital until such time as the hospital could certify that he was no longer dangerous.
Because the drug induced psychosis was already over at the time of trial, many states would not have automatically required Foucha to be admitted to a mental hospital. However, Louisiana did, unless a defendant could conclusively prove that they were no longer dangerous. Even though a hearing conducted by psychiatrists and other professionals concluded that Foucha was no longer mentally ill in any way, the hospital could not guarantee that Foucha would no longer be dangerous.
Under Louisiana state law at this time, that meant that Foucha would be held in the psychiatric hospital regardless of his actual state of mental health. Foucha v. Louisiana began when he sued the state to be released.
Supreme Court Ruling
The psychiatrists caring for Foucha had said that while his drug psychosis was over, he showed signs of antisocial personality disorder, which could lead to a dramatic increase in antisocial behaviors, including criminal ones. While the first court agreed with the doctors' assessment, Foucha claimed in Foucha v. Louisiana that this gave him literally no way to get out of psychiatric care—essentially rendering him a lifelong inmate in a psychiatric hospital for a crime that would never have been punished by life in prison.
The Supreme Court ruled in Foucha v. Louisiana that Foucha's right to due process had been violated by the Louisiana state statute. If the defendant was no longer mentally ill and did not pose an immediate danger to himself or to others, the Supreme Court ruled that the psychiatric hospital was legally required to allow him to leave.