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Stearns v. Schmidtt

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 19, 2016

DAVE SCHMIDTT, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court upon the motion of petitioner Elliot Stearns for leave to commence this action without payment of the filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed petitioner's financial affidavit, the Court concludes that petitioner lacks sufficient funds to pay the filing fee, and will grant the motion. Petitioner will also be given leave to file an amended petition.

         In the instant petition, petitioner avers that he is presently confined in the Southeast Missouri Mental Health Center after pleading not guilty by reason of insanity in state court in Phelps County, Missouri. Petitioner raises the following four grounds for relief:

1. Counsel was ineffective for causing petitioner to be declared mentally unfit to stand trial;
2. “Entrapment, ” in that defense counsel coerced petitioner to plead not guilty by reason of insanity;
3. “Illegal confinement on the grounds of enticement and solicitation, ” in that the sole plea offered was not guilty by reason of insanity; and 4. “Soled into Mondo Bondage” in that “I'm not progressing I'm digressing I'm going back to the ape stage.”

(Docket No. 1 at 5-10).


         The Court has been unable to locate any information about petitioner on Missouri Case.Net, the state of Missouri's online docketing system. However, based upon the averments in the instant petition, petitioner was not “convicted” of a crime; he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to the custody of the state of Missouri.[1] He therefore lacks a basis to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge a state conviction, because there is no “conviction” to attack.

         Under section 552.040 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri, a committed person may file a petition pursuant to under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for either conditional or unconditional release, but the instant petition does not clearly indicate an attempt to seek either form of release, or set forth any information concerning whether petitioner has properly sought such release in state court. Even so, in an abundance of caution, the Court will address the avenues for such relief below.

         Conditional release is for a limited duration and is qualified by reasonable conditions. See Mo. Rev. Stat. ' 552.040. To obtain conditional release a petitioner must prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that he “is not likely to be dangerous to others while on conditional release.” Mo. Rev. Stat. ' 552.040.12(6). A conditional release implies that despite a mental disease or disorder, the committed person is eligible for limited freedom from a mental health facility, subject to certain conditions. Greeno v. State, 59 S.W.3d 500, 504 (Mo. banc 2001).

         Unconditional release, by contrast, can be granted only if the petitioner shows “by clear and convincing evidence that he does not have, and in the reasonable future is not likely to have, a mental disease or defect rendering him dangerous to the safety of himself or others.” Mo. Rev. Stat. ' 552.040.7(6). Thus, Missouri places the burden on the insanity acquittee to prove that he qualifies for conditional or unconditional release by clear and convincing evidence. Grass, 643 F.3d 579; Mo. Rev. Stat. 552.040.7(6) & 552.040.12(6); State v. Rottinghaus, 310 S.W.3d 319, 324 (Mo.Ct.App. 2010).

         Clear and convincing evidence is “evidence that instantly tilts the scales in the affirmative when weighed against the evidence in opposition so that the court is left with the abiding conviction that the evidence is true.” Greeno, 59 S.W.3d at 505 (internal citations omitted). When an individual is acquitted by reason of mental disease or defect for a dangerous felony, in order to grant conditional or unconditional release, the court also must find that the individual “is not now and is not likely in the reasonable future to commit another violent crime” and “is aware of the nature of the violent crime committed ... and presently possesses the capacity to appreciate the criminality of the violent crime ... and ... to conform [his or her] conduct to the requirements of law in the future.” Mo. Rev. Stat. ' 552.040.20. The denial of a petition for either conditional or unconditional release is “without prejudice to the filing of another application after the expiration of one year from the denial of the last application.” Mo. Rev. Stat. ' 552.040.13.

         Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) prohibits a grant of habeas relief on behalf of a person in state custody unless that person has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State. “The exhaustion requirement of ' 2254(b) ensures that the state courts have the opportunity fully to consider federal-law challenges to a state custodial judgment before the lower federal courts may entertain a collateral attack upon that judgment.” Duncan v. Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 178B79 (2001). The exhaustion requirement prevents a federal court from granting a habeas petition based on a constitutional violation that could be redressed adequately by ...

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