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In re E.C.

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth

March 15, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF E.C.

          Heard: November 9, 2017

         Petition for civil commitment filed in the Brockton Division of the District Court Department on March 4, 2013. The case was heard by Beverly J. Cannone, J., and a motion for reconsideration was also heard by her.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Beth L. Eisenberg for E.C.

          Edward J. O'Donnell for Bridgewater State Hospital.

          Lester D. Blumberg, for Department of Mental Health, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          GAZIANO, J.

         In this appeal, we consider whether the dismissal of the criminal charge pending against the respondent, E.C, required his release from commitment to Bridgewater State Hospital (Bridgewater), where the charge was dismissed after the period of commitment had expired, and a petition to extend the commitment had yet to be decided.

         E.C. was charged in the Boston Municipal Court Department with malicious destruction of property. Following a hearing pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (b), a judge of that court found E.C. not competent to stand trial and ordered him committed to Bridgewater for a period of six months. After that period had expired, Bridgewater filed a petition in the District Court Department to extend the commitment for an additional period of one year, pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c) . While the petition for an extension was pending, the criminal charge against E.C. was dismissed. Bridgewater moved to file an amended petition to modify its pending G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), petition to a petition for civil commitment pursuant to G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8. E.C. opposed the motion and argued that Bridgewater was required to release him because the criminal charge had been dismissed. A District Court judge concluded that Bridgewater had no authority to hold E.C. pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), after the criminal charge had been dismissed and his original commitment had expired; denied Bridgewater's petition to amend; and ordered E.C. discharged.[1] The Appellate Division of the District Court affirmed that judgment, and the Appeals Court reversed. See Matter of E.C., 89 Mass.App.Ct. 813 (2016). We allowed E.C.'s application for further appellate review.

         We conclude that the dismissal of criminal charges does not require the immediate release from commitment of an incompetent defendant, and that Bridgewater retained the statutory authority to hold E.C. while the G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), petition was pending. See G. L. c. 123, § 6.[2] We conclude also that the District Court judge abused her discretion in denying Bridgewater's request to amend its pending petition for an extension under G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), to a petition for civil commitment under G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8.

         1. Background.

         The following facts are not disputed. In May, 2012, E.C. was arraigned in the Boston Municipal Court on one count of malicious destruction of property over $250.00. In July, 2012, a psychologist testified that E.C. was not competent to stand trial. A Boston Municipal Court judge ordered E.C. transferred to Bridgewater for further evaluation of his competency, pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 15 (b). In August, 2012, Bridgewater reported that E.C. was not competent to stand trial; the Commonwealth stipulated to his incompetency. The judge ordered E.C. returned to Bridgewater for a thirty-five day hospitalization, pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (a.) . Bridgewater then petitioned the court to commit E.C. for a period of six months, pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (b). The petition was allowed, and E.C.'s commitment to Bridgewater was authorized until March, 2013.

         Shortly prior to the expiration of the six-month commitment period, Bridgewater filed a petition in the Brockton Division of the District Court Department to extend E.C.'s involuntary commitment for a period of one year, under G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c) .[3] A hearing on that petition was scheduled for March, 2013. At a hearing in the Boston Municipal Court one week before the hearing scheduled on Bridgewater's petition for a renewed commitment, E.C. filed a motion to dismiss the criminal charge. The Boston Municipal Court judge continued the hearing until the following day, and E.C. waived his right to be present. The next day, the judge allowed E.C.'s motion to dismiss, over the Commonwealth's objection.

         One week later, the scheduled hearing was held in the District Court on Bridgewater's petition pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), to continue the commitment. A judge of that court allowed E.C.'s motion for funds for an independent medical examiner and continued the hearing for approximately three weeks. The day after the hearing, immediately after learning that E.C.'s criminal charge had been dismissed, Bridgewater filed a motion to amend the petition for an extension of commitment from a G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), petition to a petition for civil commitment under G. L. c. 123, §§ 7 and 8.[4]Bridgewater told the District Court judge that it had not been informed that E.C.'s criminal charge had been dismissed until six days after the dismissal. Bridgewater argued that the amendment was authorized by G. L. c. 123, § 16 (c), [5] which allows for a civil commitment proceeding after criminal charges have been dismissed. E.C. opposed Bridgewater's motion, arguing that the dismissal of the criminal charge terminated his commitment under G. L. c. 123, § 16 (b). The judge denied Bridgewater's motion, finding that G. L. c. 123, § 16, ...


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