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Phillip Wood v. John E. Main

June 6, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, Senior District Judge



Presently before the Court is a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the constitutionality of two State court orders entered on July 21, 2000, and October 18, 2002, in the Law Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Burlington County, in In re Commitment of Phillip A. Wood, No. A-5731-04T4, 2007 WL 4356135 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div., Dec. 12, 2007), cert. denied, 194 N.J. 444 (2008) (table). This Petition presents a novel question implicating the seminal case of State v. Krol, 68 N.J. 236 (1975). The issue confronting the Court is whether a suspension of a Petitioner's Krol status followed by a term of incarceration vitiates the Court's ability to reinstate Krol. Put differently, Petitioner contends that his intermittent incarceration is evidence that he was no longer in need of medical treatment as prescribed by Krol and, therefore, the State court did not have the authority to civilly commit upon the conclusion of his penal confinement.*fn1

For the reasons expressed below and because Petitioner was released from confinement pursuant to Krol, 68 N.J. 236, on April 18, 2010 (Dkt. No. 25-2), the Court will dismiss the Petition and deny a certificate of appealability.


At the age of nineteen and after an argument with his father about money, Petitioner set fire to the family home while his family was inside sleeping. All family members escaped by jumping from second floor windows, except Petitioner's two-month old nephew, who died in the fire. Petitioner was charged with felony murder and aggravated arson in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Burlington County. In 1981, he was found not guilty of these crimes by reason of insanity ("NGI"). See In re Wood, 2007 WL 4356135, at *1. As a result, Petitioner was involuntarily committed to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital as an NGI acquittee, and received periodic review hearings, in accordance with Krol, 68 N.J. 236.*fn2

On August 5, 1999, while confined at Ancora, Petitioner was charged with setting fire to bed linens. See In re Wood, 2007 WL 4356135 at *1. On December 22, 1999, Petitioner was charged with aggravated assault of his female psychiatrist. Id. Based on Petitioner's guilty plea, on May 3, 2000, the Law Division sentenced him to three years in prison on the assault charge and to a concurrent 18-month sentence on a criminal mischief charge. Id.

On July 21, 2000, the Burlington County Law Division entered an order (one of the orders challenged in this § 2254 Petition) in the Krol proceeding which suspended Petitioner's Krol hearings while he was serving his prison sentence for the aggravated assault conviction. In addition, the Law Division ordered the New Jersey Department of Corrections ("NJDOC") to notify the court 90 days prior to Petitioner's parole or release for the purpose of scheduling a Krol hearing. (Dkt. No. 25-3, pp. 97-98.)

Petitioner's release was scheduled for November 4, 2002 and, by way of letter dated August 2, 2002, the NJDOC advised the prosecutor that professional staff evaluated Petitioner and determined that he was not currently in need of involuntary commitment on the grounds of mental illness or dangerous to himself, others, or property within the reasonably foreseeable future, as required by N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 2C:47-5 and 30:4-82.4. (Dkt. No. 25-3, pp. 108-09.) The letter further stated that, since Petitioner was on Krol status, a Krol hearing should be scheduled prior to his release.


Following a hearing on October 18, 2002, during which arguments of counsel were heard and reports of NJDOC staff psychiatrists were considered, the Law Division entered a second order (the second order being challenged in the instant § 2254 proceeding) in the Krol proceeding. This order vacated the July 21 order, which suspended hearings while Petitioner was in the care and custody of the NJDOC, and directed that Petitioner be transported to Ancora for review of his Krol status. (Dkt. No. 25-3, pp. 99-100.)

On December 2, 2002, an evidentiary hearing was held to determine if Petitioner should be confined under Krol as an NGI acquittee of the 1981 murder and arson charges. (Dkt. No. 25-6.) After hearing testimony of the psychiatrist, the court ruled Petitioner be confined under Krol. (Id. at p. 16.) Prior to the conclusion of the hearing, Petitioner argued that, if he needed to be committed under Krol, then he "certainly wouldn't have been capable of staying in prison for three years without any problems, perfectly sane, then they turn me off like a light bulb and I'm crazy under insanity status all over again . . . . That's a legal contradiction." (Id. at p. 22.) Petitioner asked the court why his status couldn't be reduced to civil commitment status from Krol status. (Id. at 23.) The court responded that Petitioner's Krol status could remain for up to 30 years and that Petitioner's doctor determined him to be mentally ill and recommended that he remain on Krol status. (Id. at pp. 23-24.)

Petitioner appealed the orders dated July 21, 2002, and October 18, 2002, to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. See In re Wood, 2007 WL 4356135 at *1. Petitioner alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when the Superior Court suspended his Krol hearings while he was in prison for the assault conviction. Id. at *2. On December 12, 2007, the Appellate Division affirmed both orders in an unpublished opinion. The court noted that state law requires periodic reviews of NGI commitment "no later than (1) three months from the date of the first hearing, and (2) nine months from the date of the first hearing, and (3) 12 months from the date of the first hearing, and (4) at least annually thereafter, if the patient is not sooner discharged." Id. The court went on to conclude that even "if Wood had been afforded a Krol hearing while imprisoned, he would not have been released, even if it were determined he was no longer a danger to self or others. Because there was no purpose to be accomplished by a Krol review while Wood was incarcerated, a relaxation of R. 4:74-7 was appropriate, did not violate Wood's constitutional rights, and was in accordance with his consent." Id. at *3. The Appellate Division also rejected Wood's argument that his transfer to prison for service of the new criminal sentence necessitated termination of his Krol status because he was no longer mentally ill.*fn3

On March 12, 2008, the New Jersey Supreme Court denied Wood's petition for certification. See In re Wood, 945 A.2d 1288 (2008) (table). On September 5, 2008, Petitioner filed his first § 2254 Petition in the United States District Court challenging the July 21, 2000 and October 18, 2002 orders. The District Court dismissed the first petition for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on February 20, 2009.*fn4 See Wood v. New Jersey, Civ. No. 08-4515, 2009 WL 448777 (D.N.J. Feb. 20, 2009). Then, Petitioner was released from incarceration on November 5, 2009 and recommitted under the NGI standard under Krol. By order filed March 31, 2010, the New Jersey Superior Court terminated Petitioner's NGI Krol status as of April 18, 2010, and ordered the Anne Klein Forensic Center to immediately evaluate Petitioner to determine whether or not he should be committed pursuant to the New Jersey Civil Commitment Law, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.1 et seq. (Dkt. No. 25-2, p. 26.)

A hearing was conducted and Petitioner was civilly committed effective April 18, 2010, pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 30:4-27.15 (a) which provides that "[i]f the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the patient needs continued involuntary commitment to treatment, it shall issue an order authorizing the involuntary commitment of the patient and the assignment or admission of the patient . . . ." In the meantime, the Present § 2254 Petition was filed on April 1, 2010 (17 days before his NGI status commitment expired). The Clerk received it on April 7, 2010. ...

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