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01/07/76 United States of America v. James R. Snyder

January 7, 1976

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

v.

JAMES R. SNYDER, APPELLANT (D.C. CRIMINAL 1266-69) NO. 73-1970 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

v.

JAMES R. SNYDER, APPELLANT (D.C. CRIMINAL 1079-56) NO. 73-2154

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

v.

JAMES R. SNYDER, APPELLANT (D.C. CRIMINAL



UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

2107-72) 1976.CDC.3

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

APPELLATE PANEL:

Bazelon, Chief Judge, Tamm and Robb, Circuit Judges. Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge Robb.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE ROBB

Each of these consolidated appeals presents a different issue. In No. 24,575 the appellant Snyder, a patient at Saint Elizabeths Hospital for the mentally ill, was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon, 22 D.C. Code § 502, and mayhem, 22 D.C. Code § 506. After a non-jury trial he was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for not less than three nor more than ten years on each count, the sentences to run concurrently. The question presented is whether the District Court rightly declined to interpose an insanity defense when both Snyder and his counsel urged that it not be raised.

In No. 73-1970 Snyder challenges the refusal of the District Court to approve the recommendation of the hospital authorities that he be unconditionally released.

In No. 73-2154 Snyder was convicted of escape from Saint Elizabeths Hospital in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 751 (a). The government concedes that United States v. Powell, 164 U.S.App.D.C. 104, 503 F.2d 195 (1974) requires a reversal of this judgment.

A consolidated summary of the facts in all three cases will present the issues in focus.

In 1956 Snyder was indicted in the District Court for the murder of his homosexual partner. Found competent to stand trial he was tried in 1959, adjudged not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital. On August 5, 1963, while still a patient at Saint Elizabeths, he stabbed another patient repeatedly with an ice pick, inflicting serious wounds. By threats with the same weapon he then compelled a nursing assistant to open the door and allow him to escape. Informing the United States Attorney of the escape the Superintendent of Saint Elizabeths wrote: "Mr. Snyder is still in need of further hospitalization because of his mental condition, is considered dangerous and should be apprehended and returned as quickly as possible." Snyder was apprehended some six weeks later and returned to the hospital, but no criminal action was taken against him.

On December 1, 1968 Snyder struck a hospital employee on the head with a blunt instrument, causing him to lose one eye, his olfactory sense, and a piece of his skull. According to the employee, Peter Klaga, Snyder suddenly became violent and struck him from behind. Snyder claimed that Klaga had made homosexual advances to him and that Snyder struck him in self-defense.

On April 5, 1969 the grand jury indicted Snyder for mayhem and assault with a dangerous weapon on Klaga. In response to an order of the District Court requesting a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant the hospital reported, December 1, 1969:

Mr. Snyder has been under continued observation and has been examined by qualified members of our psychiatric staff with respect to the current charge and the following determinations have been made. It is our opinion that although Mr. Snyder suffers from sexual deviation, homosexuality and other drug dependence (multiple drugs) (alcoholic features), he is mentally competent for trial by virtue of having a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him and being able to consult with counsel with a reasonable degree of rational understanding. It is also our opinion that he was mentally ill at the time of the crime but members of our staff are of conflicting opinions as to whether the crime was a product of his mental illness. [Emphasis added]

Neither the government nor Snyder questioned the hospital's opinion that he was competent to stand trial and on January 20, 1970 the court accordingly found that he was competent. When the case came on for trial, April 29, 1970, the court referred to "the question of the possible insanity defense" and asked counsel for the defendant his "position with respect to that". Counsel responded:

. . . although we presumably would have an insanity defense available, based on Dr. Robinson's letter and the Government's position, we do not wish to interpose a defense of insanity. The reasons are two.

One, it is the defendant's position that he did not do what it is alleged that he did, and he has no wish to plead guilty to a crime which he did not commit.

The second factor is that, in terms of what happens to him at St. Elizabeth's where he is to be kept at John Howard or a lesser restrictive service, there isn't much difference between a successful insanity defense and a conviction.

I think whatever happens in this case, the chances are that he is going to remain at St. Elizabeth's. And he wishes to fight this case on the merits. He thinks he has a defense.

The prosecutor stated that although the government would not oppose an insanity defense if it were offered the government would not introduce evidence of Snyder's mental illness or raise the insanity issue. The court then turned to Snyder and the following colloquy took place:

THE COURT: Mr. Levitt [Snyder's counsel] has indicated that while there is a possibility of raising a defense by reason of insanity, he has consulted with you and you do not want to raise such a defense.

Is that correct?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, sir. And the reason for this is the setup out at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. See, if I raise an insanity defense, -- well, in the first place, I did not wish to raise an insanity defense because I didn't feel I ...


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