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State v. S.S.

Supreme Court of West Virginia

October 23, 2017

State of West Virginia, Plaintiff Below, Respondent
v.
S.S., Defendant Below, Petitioner

         Kanawha County 10-F-974 & 10-M-260

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner S.S., by counsel C. Joan Parker, appeals the Circuit Court of Kanawha County's August 10, 2016, order committing him to a five-year psychiatric commitment.[1] The State of West Virginia, by counsel Benjamin F. Yancy III, filed a response. On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred by failing to give him credit for time served while incarcerated prior to his commitment to a psychiatric facility.

         This Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         In July of 2010, petitioner was arrested and incarcerated for attempted kidnapping, battery on a police officer, and obstructing an officer. By order entered on July 26, 2010, the circuit court granted petitioner's motion for a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. In September of 2010, the Kanawha County grand jury returned a three-count indictment against petitioner charging him with attempted kidnapping, battery on a police officer, and obstructing an officer.

         In October of 2010, the circuit court held a hearing wherein it received the results of petitioner's competency psychiatric evaluation. According to the evaluation, petitioner was not competent to stand trial. By order entered on November 3, 2010, the circuit court transferred petitioner from incarceration to William R. Sharpe Hospital ("Sharpe") for approximately three months to restore his competency. In March of 2011, the circuit court extended petitioner's commitment due to the treating physician's recommendation that petitioner needed more time to regain competency.

         In May of 2011, petitioner was transferred from Sharpe back to incarceration. Later, the circuit court held another hearing during which evidence was presented that petitioner refused to take his psychiatric medications and that his mental condition was deteriorating. The circuit court, by order entered May 23, 2011, transferred petitioner to Mildred Mitchell Bateman Hospital ("Bateman") to ensure his continued treatment and monitoring.

         In August of 2011, the circuit court held another hearing wherein it found that, due to an underlying mental illness, petitioner was not criminally responsible for the offenses for which he was indicted. By order entered on September 14, 2011, the circuit court found that, if convicted, petitioner would have received a fifteen year term for attempted kidnapping, a one-year term for battering on an officer, and a one-year term for obstructing an officer.[2] Hence, the circuit court committed petitioner to a psychiatric hospital for seventeen years to treat petitioner and protect the public.

         In September of 2015, petitioner filed a motion with the circuit court to correct the original commitment order. In support of his motion, petitioner argued that the circuit court miscalculated the maximum sentence he could have received if convicted of the underlying offenses. Specifically, he argued that the maximum sentence for attempted kidnapping was three years, rather than fifteen years, as found by the circuit court in the original commitment order.

         Under West Virginia Code § 61-2-14a, for the completed offense of kidnapping "the punishment shall be confinement by the Division of Corrections for a definite term of years not less than ten nor more than thirty." Further, West Virginia Code § 61-11-8(2) reads that

[i]f the offense attempted be punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary for a term less than life, such person shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, shall, in the discretion of the court, either be imprisoned in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than three years.

         According to petitioner, the maximum punishment he could have received was a five-year term of incarceration: a three year term of incarceration for the attempted kidnapping, a one-year term of incarceration for the battery on a police officer, and a one-year term of incarceration for obstructing an officer.

         In December of 2015, the circuit court held a hearing on petitioner's motion to correct the original commitment order. The circuit court and the State agreed that the original commitment order was incorrect and that petitioner should have been committed for a period of five years only. The circuit court then recommitted petitioner to a five-year psychiatric commitment, which began to run on the date that he was originally committed, August 10, 2011. Petitioner also requested that he be immediately discharged from his psychiatric commitment. In support of his request, petitioner argued that he should be credited with the time that he served while incarcerated before the beginning of his psychiatric commitment. Following the hearing, petitioner moved the circuit court for an urgent ruling on the matter.[3] The circuit court ultimately denied his request for credit for time served and, by amended order, entered on June 15, 2016, corrected its original erroneous commitment order. This appeal followed. Following this appeal, petitioner completed the period of his psychiatric commitment on August 10, 2016, and was discharged from the mental health facility.

         The Court has previously established the following standard of review: "Where the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syl. Pt. 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995). Further,

[i]n reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court, we apply a two-prong deferential standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard, and we review the circuit court's underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard. Questions of law are subject to a de novo review." Syl. ...

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