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State v. Davis

Supreme Court of North Dakota

July 20, 2016

State of North Dakota, Plaintiff and Appellee
v.
Charles Lee Davis, II, Defendant and Appellant

         Appeal from the District Court of Ward County, North Central Judicial District, the Honorable Stacy Joan Louser, Judge.

          Rozanna C. Larson, Assistant State's Attorney, P.O. Box 5005, Minot, ND 58702-5005, for plaintiff and appellee.

          Richard E. Edinger, P.O. Box 1295, Fargo, ND 58107-1295, for defendant and appellant.

          McEvers, Justice.

         [¶ 1] Charles Davis II appeals from a district court's order denying his motion for discharge from his conditional release from the North Dakota State Hospital. We affirm.

         I

         [¶ 2] In April 2011, the State charged Charles Davis II with murder and theft of a motor vehicle. Lynne Sullivan, a forensic psychologist at the State Hospital evaluated and diagnosed Davis with schizophrenia, paranoid type, and concluded he was not criminally responsible for his acts. Davis entered unopposed pleas of not guilty by lack of criminal responsibility to both charges under N.D.C.C. ch. 12.1-04.1. In August 2012, the district court found Davis mentally ill or defective and that there was a substantial risk, as a result of mental illness or defect, that Davis would commit a criminal act of violence threatening another with bodily injury or inflicting property damage and Davis was not a proper subject for conditional release. The district court committed Davis to the North Dakota State Hospital and advised Davis that his commitment could last for the remainder of his natural life under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-20(1).

         [¶ 3] In May 2013, Davis filed a notice that he would be seeking a discharge at his annual review hearing. In June 2013, Sullivan filed an annual treatment update. Sullivan reported that, due to Davis's consistently good behavior, he was given additional privileges, including transfer to transitional living on the State Hospital's campus. Sullivan's report indicated Davis obtained outside employment, working up to fifty hours per week, took and monitored his own medications, and displayed no symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia since his commitment. Sullivan recommended that the district court continue Davis's commitment and gradually transition him back into the community.

         [¶ 4] In September 2013, after an annual review hearing, the district court ordered Davis's conditional release and discharge from the State Hospital after finding he continued to suffer from a mental illness and was in need of treatment and supervision. The district court found the risk that Davis will commit, as the result of mental illness or defect, a criminal act of violence, was adequately controlled with supervision and treatment. The district court ordered the Department of Human Services be responsible for the supervision of Davis while conditionally released to transitional living. Included in the order were conditions Davis was required to follow for the appropriate protection of society.

         [¶ 5] In July 2014, Sullivan filed an annual treatment update. Sullivan reported that Davis continued to suffer from paranoid schizophrenia, but that it is well managed with medications. Sullivan reported Davis had been compliant with taking medications, kept therapy appointments, and generally maintained good mental health. Sullivan also recommended that Davis be granted increased travel privileges if he was not already discharged by the next review hearing.

         [¶ 6] In September 2014, Krislea Wegner, an independent psychologist, conducted a civil commitment evaluation. Wegner reported that Davis successfully transitioned to independent living without incident or setback, and that he had enough insight regarding his treatment regimen to seek out services and resources if stress or additional mental health symptoms became a factor. Wegner concluded that, while there was a potential risk of deterioration if Davis chose to stop taking his medications, there was no behavioral data to suggest that risk was a current concern. At his September 2014 annual review hearing, Davis testified about his treatment with his psychiatrist at the Veterans Health Administration ("V.A.") and requested his care be transferred to the V.A. The district court voiced concern that there was nothing in writing indicating the V.A. would accept full responsibility for Davis's care. The district court continued Davis's conditional release.

         [¶ 7] In March 2015, Davis moved for discharge under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5). At the discharge hearing, Wegner and Sullivan both testified there is not a substantial risk at the present time that Davis will commit a crime based on his mental illness. Wegner recommended that Davis be discharged. Sullivan testified she had no objection to Davis's professional services being transferred to providers at the V.A., so long as any medication noncompliance would be immediately reported to the Executive Director. Neither a representative nor doctor from the Veterans Administration testified at the hearing regarding its position.

         [¶ 8] The district court requested post hearing briefs for the parties to further address Davis's discharge from conditional release. After reviewing the parties' briefs, the district court found there is not a substantial risk that Davis will commit a criminal act of violence threatening another individual with bodily injury or inflicting property damage, qualifying its finding by also finding that the risk of potential subsequent schizophrenic episodes increase if medications are stopped. The district court continued its September 2013 order for conditional release to ensure medication compliance for the protection of Davis and society. Davis appeals the district court's order continuing his conditional release and denying his discharge.

         II

         [¶ 9] Davis argues the district court "usurped its authority" by ignoring the plain language of N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5) and failing to discharge him from conditional release as mandated under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5)(a). According to Davis, a preponderance of the evidence supports a discharge under subdivision (a) and the district court mischaracterized the experts' testimony in order to continue his conditional release under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5)(b), contrary to the statute. The State argues the district court had the authority, under the plain language of the statute, to continue Davis's conditional release under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5)(b) and was not required to discharge him under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5)(a).

         [¶ 10] We have not had an opportunity to interpret N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-25(5). However, in State v. Nording, we articulated the purposes of the Criminal Responsibility and Post-Trial Responsibility Act, N.D.C.C. ch. 12.1-04.1:

The purposes of NDCC Ch. 12.1-04.1 are clear. The statute seeks to protect society from persons who commit violent crimes and who suffer from mental illness or defect. The statute also seeks to secure appropriate treatment for those individuals and to release them from involuntary commitment when neither society's protection nor their welfare requires continued confinement.

485 N.W.2d 781, 785-86 (N.D. 1992).

         [¶ 11] "Statutory interpretation is a question of law, fully reviewable on appeal." Teigen v. State, 2008 ND 88, ¶ 19, 749 N.W.2d 505. "When interpreting a statute, we first look to the language itself and determine whether it is unambiguous on its face." State v. Hafner, 1998 ND 220, ¶ 10, 587 N.W.2d 177. As we explain in Rasnic v. ConocoPhillips Co., 2014 ND 181, ¶ 14, 854 N.W.2d 659:

Words in a statute are given their plain, ordinary, and commonly understood meaning unless defined by statute or unless a contrary intention plainly appears. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-02. Statutes are construed as a whole and are harmonized to give meaning to related provisions. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-07. If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the letter of the statute must not be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-05. If the language of a statute is ambiguous, however, a court may resort to extrinsic aids to determine the intention of the legislation, including the object sought to be attained, the circumstances under which the legislation was enacted, and the legislative history. N.D.C.C. § 1-02-39. A statute is ambiguous if it is susceptible to different, rational meanings. State v. Meador, 2010 ND 139, ¶ 11, 785 N.W.2d 886.

We presume that "[a] just and reasonable result is intended." N.D.C.C. § 1-02-38.

         [¶ 12] Section 12.1-04.1-25(5), N.D.C.C., provides:

Upon application by an individual conditionally released... the court shall determine whether to continue, modify, or terminate the order. The court shall consider and dispose of an application promptly. In a proceeding under this section, the applicant has the burden of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. The court shall enter an order in accordance with the following requirements:
A. If the court finds that the individual is not mentally ill or defective or that there is not a substantial risk that the individual will commit, as a result of mental illness or defect, a criminal act, it shall order that the individual be discharged from further constraint under this chapter.
b. If the court finds that the individual is mentally ill or defective, but that there is not a substantial risk that the individual will commit, as a result of mental illness or defect, a criminal act of violence threatening another individual with bodily injury or inflicting property damage, it may modify the conditions of release as appropriate for the protection of society.
c. If the court finds that the individual is mentally ill or defective and that there is a substantial risk that the individual will commit, as a result of mental illness or defect, a criminal act of violence threatening another individual with bodily injury or inflicting property damage and that the individual is no longer a proper subject for conditional release, it shall order the individual committed to a treatment facility for custody and treatment. If the court finds that the individual is mentally ill or defective and that there is a substantial risk that the individual, as a result of mental illness or defect, will commit a nonviolent criminal act, it may order the individual to report to any treatment facility for noncustodial evaluation and treatment and to accept nonexperimental, generally accepted medical, psychiatric, or psychological treatment recommended by the treatment facility.

(Emphasis added.)

         [¶ 13] Construing this statutory language, "we are guided by the rule that we interpret statutes in context and in relation to others on the same subject to give meaning to each without rendering one or the other useless." BASF Corporation v. Symington, 512 N.W.2d 692, 696 (N.D. 1994). Further, "we attempt to harmonize statutes to avoid conflict between them." Id.

         [¶ 14] Chapter 12.1-04.1, N.D.C.C., provides three separate sections providing for the disposition of and the possible commitment and levels of constraint that may be imposed upon a person who has committed a crime, but is not criminally responsible for the crime based on the defendant being mentally ill or defective. See N.D.C.C. §§ 12.1-04.1-22; 12.1-04.1-24; 12.1-04.1-25. Section 12.1-04.1-22 relates to the initial order of disposition; section 12.1-04.1-24 relates to modification of commitment; section 12.1-04.1-25 relates to the modification of an order allowing conditional release. All three sections require the discharge of an individual if the court finds the individual is not mentally ill or defective or that there is not a substantial risk, as a result of a mental illness or defect, that the individual will commit a criminal act. See N.D.C.C. §§ 12.1-04.1-22(4)(a); 12.1-04.1-24(3)(a); 12.1-04.1-25(5)(a). All three sections also contemplate an individual committed may pose various levels of risk to society and grants the district court discretion to order the individual to varying levels of care, from commitment at a treatment facility, to supervision and treatment, or to treatment without supervision, depending on the risks found. See N.D.C.C. §§ 12.1-04.1-22(4)(b)-(c); 12.1-04.1-24(3)(b)-(c); 12.1-04.1-25(5)(b)-(c). Because these three sections are interrelated, we review their application to Davis.

         [¶ 15] In the original dispositional order, the district court found Davis to be mentally ill or defective and that there was a substantial risk he would commit an act of violence and was not a proper subject for conditional release. This finding was made under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-22(4)(b), which provides:

If the court finds that the individual is mentally ill or defective and that there is a substantial risk, as a result of mental illness or defect, that the individual will commit a criminal act of violence threatening another individual with bodily injury or inflicting property damage and that the individual is not a proper subject for conditional release, it shall order the individual committed to a treatment facility for custody and treatment. If the court finds that the risk that the individual will commit an act of violence threatening another individual with bodily injury or inflicting property damage will be controlled adequately with supervision and treatment if the individual is conditionally released and that necessary supervision and treatment are available, it shall order the person released subject to conditions it considers appropriate for the protection of society.

         Under subdivision (b), the district court is required to order the mentally ill individual to in-patient treatment if there is a substantial risk to commit an act of violence and the individual is not a proper subject for conditional release. N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-22(4)(b). The statute does not identify what makes an individual a proper subject for conditional release, but it is apparently a combination of the risk level and the availability of appropriate treatment and supervision available in an outpatient setting that would reduce the associated risk, as noted in the second sentence of the subdivision.

         [¶ 16] After the individual has been committed under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-22, they may apply for modification of the terms of commitment under N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-24(3). Again, based on the findings made, the district court may discharge the individual or vacate the commitment order and order the individual to report to a treatment facility for noncustodial evaluation and treatment, or order the individual released subject to supervision, treatment, and conditions it considers appropriate for the protection of society. N.D.C.C. § 12.1-04.1-24(3)(a)-(c). To vacate a previous order committing a person to a treatment facility, the district court must find that, ...


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