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Smith v. Mississippi Department of Mental Health

Supreme Court of Mississippi

November 9, 2017

RALPH ARNOLD SMITH, JR.
v.
MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF MENTAL HEALTH AND JAMES G. CHASTAIN, DIRECTOR OF THE MISSISSIPPI STATE HOSPITAL

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 07/11/2016

         HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT, HON. DENISE OWENS.

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: WILLIAM CHARLES BELL BENNY McCALIP “MAC” MAY HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III JOHN H. BARNETT, III.

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: WILLIAM CHARLES BELL.

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: BENNY McCALIP “MAC” MAY HAROLD EDWARD PIZZETTA, III.

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, P.J., MAXWELL AND BEAM, JJ.

          MAXWELL, JUSTICE.

         ¶1. Dr. Ralph A. Smith Jr. was arrested and indicted in a murder-for-hire plot in 2012. He was eventually committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield, where he has been treated for mental illness. Soon after his arrival at Whitfield, the facility's director recommended Dr. Smith's illness required continual, involuntary treatment and that he should remain committed at the facility. Dr. Smith disagreed with the recommendation and has contested his commitment to Whitfield at every step. Most recently, Dr. Smith filed in Hinds County Chancery Court a habeas petition and motion for relief from the chancellor's ruling that ordered his continued inpatient treatment. Dr. Smith argues he has been improperly confined to Whitfield and should be released immediately or discharged to an outpatient facility.

         ¶2. The chancellor denied his petition and motion for relief. And on appeal, Smith argues his habeas petition was wrongly denied and the Mississippi Department of Mental Health lacked standing to oppose his requests. But during the pendency of this appeal, Dr. Smith was discharged from Whitfield to an outpatient facility. So the relief he requests in this appeal can no longer be granted by this Court. We thus dismiss his appeal as moot.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         ¶3. In 2012, Dr. Smith was arrested and indicted for capital murder, conspiracy, and burglary. In October 2014, a Leflore County Circuit Court judge declared Dr. Smith incompetent to stand trial. Based on this ruling, the Leflore County District Attorney's Office filed an affidavit in chancery court to begin civil-commitment proceedings. After examinations by a court-appointed physician and psychologist and two hearings, on January 16, 2015, Special Chancellor Hollis McGehee ordered Dr. Smith to be committed to the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield.

         ¶4. Soon after his arrival at Whitfield, Dr. Smith requested a hearing in Hinds County Chancery Court. The purpose of the hearing was to determine if continued commitment was necessary.[1] Chancellor Denise Owens appointed counsel for Dr. Smith. She also assigned the hearing to a special master. The hearing took place at Whitfield on March 10, 2015. The special master heard testimony from a physician and psychologist, both employed at Whitfield, that Dr. Smith needed continued "forced treatment" for "a persistent mental disorder." The special master agreed that Dr. Smith's continued treatment at Whitfield was necessary and was the least restrictive alternative. Based on the special master's findings, Judge Owens entered an order on March 10, 2015, continuing Dr. Smith's commitment at Whitfield.

         ¶5. On October 13, 2015, Dr. Smith filed a motion requesting a hearing before Judge Owens. He argued that Whitfield's director had not completed the six-month examination required under Mississippi Code Section 41-21-99.[2] And he insisted he should be released from Whitfield or discharged to an outpatient facility. The Mississippi Department of Mental Health (the Department), through the Attorney General's Office, responded that Dr. Smith had received his six-month examination on May 8, 2015. They asserted the examination was part of his clinical record. And the next examination was scheduled for November 7, 2015.

         ¶6. Judge Owens held hearings on December 4 and 18, 2015, and heard extensive testimony about Dr. Smith's mental condition. Dr. Smith called his wife, a counselor from Hinds Behavioral Health Services, and a forensic psychologist from Whitfield as witnesses. The gist of their testimony was that outpatient treatment was sufficient both to treat Dr. Smith and to protect the community. The Department disagreed. ...


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