By Joshua P. Bussen

Yesterday, in United States v. Conrad—a published opinion—the Fourth Circuit affirmed a decision by the Western District of Virginia to deny a motion to dismiss commitment proceedings. The defendant, Samuel Robert Conrad III, appealed the district court’s denial of his motion to dismiss commitment proceedings arising from a 2007 insanity acquittal of a separate set of offenses, as well as the district court’s order to delay those proceedings until he is released from prison.

Problems Addressed by the Court

On appeal, Mr. Conrad raised two issues. First, he claims that the district court was incorrect in denying his motion to dismiss proceedings that would determine if he should be committed to a mental institution. Second, he asserts that the district court did not have the authority to delay the proceedings until after he finishes serving almost a decade long prison sentence.

The Circumstances of Mr. Conrad’s Incarceration

In 2006 Samuel Conrad was indicted for unlawful use of controlled substances, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and possession of an unregistered sawed­-off shotgun. Mr. Conrad was found not guilty for reason of insanity and was released on a conditional basis because the court found that he posed no threat to the public. In 2008 Mr. Conrad was charged with murder for beating a relative to death. He plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter—receiving a sentence of four years and seven months imprisonment, and revocation of his conditional release for the 2006 crimes. Mr. Conrad appealed the revocation of his conditional release, successfully, as the only two remedies that were proper under the applicable statute were unconditional release or indefinite commitment. This successful appeal returned the defendant’s status to that of before he was originally conditionally released. Therefore, Mr. Conrad was required to submit to a new hearing under 18 U.S.C. § 4243 to determine his “dangerousness,” and whether he should be unconditionally released or indefinitely committed. While this hearing was still pending the defendant plead guilty to possession of a firearm by a felon and received eight years in prison. Because Appellant was in custody and therefore could not be released through a § 4243 hearing, the district court chose to wait for Mr. Conrad’s release before conducting the sanity hearing. This appeal followed.

The Law—18 U.S.C. § 4243

The statute that was the issue of appeal in this case is 18 U.S.C. § 4243.  Under § 4243, a defendant that sustains a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity shall submit to a hearing to determine if he is dangerous to the public.  Subsection (b) requires that the hearing be conducted within forty days of the not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.

Why the Fourth Circuit Affirmed

Mr. Conrad argued that because he would be spending the next eight years in prison that he did not pose a threat to the public and that the pending commitment hearing should be dismissed.  The Fourth Circuit disagreed, finding that the delay of the commitment hearing until after the defendant’s release was proper because it would be consistent with the intent of the statute and the defendant—through his wrongdoing—brought about the delay.  The court found that § 4243 was created to protect the public, and that delaying the commitment hearing served that purpose.  It also held that it would be inequitable to allow the defendant to escape the hearing by his own subsequent wrongdoing that landed him in prison.

The Fourth Circuit’s Determination

The Fourth Circuit concluded that Mr. Conrad should not be allowed to eradicate the statute’s intent by committing subsequent offenses and that delaying the hearing until he is released from prison is consistent with the statutory framework of § 4243.