Foucha v. Louisiana

Foucha v. Louisiana
Argued November 4, 1991
Decided May 18, 1992
Full case name Terry Foucha v. State of Louisiana
Docket nos. 90-5844
Citations 504 U.S. 71 (more)
112 S. Ct. 1780; 118 L. Ed. 2d 437; 1992 U.S. LEXIS 2703
Prior history Petitioner's writ denied in State Court of Appeals, denial affirmed in State Supreme Court
Potential dangerousness is not a justification to commit a person found not guilty by reason of insanity if no mental illness is present.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
Byron White · Harry Blackmun
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Case opinions
Majority White (Parts I, II), joined by O'Connor, Blackmun, Stevens, Souter
Plurality White (Part III), joined by Blackmun, Stevens, Souter
Concurrence O'Connor
Dissent Kennedy, joined by Rehnquist
Dissent Thomas, joined by Rehnquist, Scalia
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. XIV

Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71 (1992), was a U.S. Supreme Court case in which the court addressed the criteria for the continued commitment of an individual who had been found not guilty by reason of insanity. The individual remained involuntarily confined on the justification that he was potentially dangerous even though he no longer suffered from the mental illness that served as a basis for his original commitment.[1]


Petitioner Terry Foucha was charged with aggravated burglary and illegal discharge of a firearm. He burglarized a home after the occupants fled and discharged a firearm in the direction of a law enforcement officer. Initially he was evaluated as incompetent to proceed to trial because he was unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the offense. When he later was evaluated as competent, he was tried and found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was committed to East Feliciana State Hospital (LA Maximum Secure) on the grounds that he had a mental illness and was dangerous.[2]

Under Louisiana law, a criminal defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a psychiatric hospital will remain there until the hospital review committee recommends that he be released. If the review committee recommends release, then the trial court must hold a hearing to determine whether he is dangerous to himself or others. If he is found to be dangerous, he may be returned to the hospital whether or not he is currently mentally ill. The committee met and stated that it could not guarantee that Foucha would not be a danger to himself or others.[3]

Therefore, the state court ordered petitioner Foucha to return to the mental institution to which he had been committed, ruling that he was dangerous. The decision was based on a doctor's testimony that, although Foucha had recovered from the drug induced psychosis for which he was committed, he continued to be diagnosed as having an antisocial personality, a condition that is not a mental illness and is not considered treatable. Foucha had been involved in several fights within the facility which doctors felt might indicate he might pose a danger if released.[1] The court stated the burden of proof rested on Foucha to prove that he was not a danger to himself or others.[4]


Foucha petitioned the Court for a writ of certiorari. The State Court of Appeals had denied Foucha's appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed, holding, among other things, that per Jones v. United States (1983) Foucha's release was not required. The latter ruled that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment was not violated by the statutory provision permitting confinement of an insanity acquittee based on dangerousness alone, although dangerousness alone in the absence of a mental illness would not satisfy the standards for a civil commitment.[1]

Opinion of the Court

The Court ruled that potential dangerousness was not a justification to retain a person found not guilty by reason of insanity if no mental illness was present. James P. Manasseh argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Martin E. Regan, Jr.[5] An acquittee cannot be confined as a mental patient without some medical justification for doing so.[1] Although the individual may be dangerous, the Court ruled that a person committed on the basis of an insanity defense and who has regained his sanity cannot continue to be confined on the sole justification that he remains dangerous.[1] A (formerly) insane acquittee must remain both ill and dangerous to continue to be involuntarily committed.[6] This ruling also applies to convicted persons. "There is no conceivable basis for distinguishing the commitment of a person who is nearing the end of a penal term from all other commitments."[7]

Therefore, the State of Louisiana was not justified in retaining the petitioner unless it could prove that serious public safety concerns existed to justify the acquittee's continuing classification as dangerous.


The Court clarified that if the justification for commitment after an insanity acquittal no longer applies, the individual is to be released. To maintain that an insanity acquittee remain civilly committed to a psychiatric institution until he is no longer a danger to himself or others is unconstitutional. In this case the basis for commitment was that the defendant was both not responsible due to a mental illness and was dangerous. If he no longer suffers from a mental illness, then there is no justification to detain him. States must maintain the same standard for involuntarily committed insanity acquittees as they do for civilly committed individuals. Commitment must be based on standard principles of civil commitment, including proving that the individual is mentally ill. Commitment cannot be an automatic consequence of the acquittal.[8]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71 (1992).  This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  2. "Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 31 (1992)". Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  3. Robert G. Meyer. Law and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach. Guilford Press. pp. 139141. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  4. "Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71, 32 (1992)". Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  5. 504 U.S. 71, 73.
  6. Irving B. Weiner. Handbook of Psychology. John Wiley and Sons. p. 395. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  7. "The Effects of Foucha v. Louisiana on SVPACivil Commitments and Equal Protection". Archived from the original on October 28, 2009. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  8. Paul F. Stavis ([First published, Quality of Care Newsletter, Issue 55, March–April 1993]). "Cases & Trends - Mental Illness and Treatment Rights". New York State Quality of Care Commission. Archived from the original on May 29, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-16. Check date values in: |year= (help)
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.