Wilson v. State
249 P.3d 28 (Mont. 2010)
In Wilson v. State, the Montana Supreme Court held that the Montana State Prison (“MSP”) did not violate a defendant’s constitutional rights when it denied him prescribed psychiatric medication. The Court upheld the district court’s denial of post-conviction relief, finding that the defendant failed to prove MSP “consciously disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm” or acted in a manner that “greatly exacerbate[d] [his] mental illness.” Therefore, the Court held that MSP did not violate the defendant’s Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment or his right to individual dignity under the Montana Constitution.
On January 22, 2009, the district court sentenced Colton Wilson (“Wilson”) to a six-year deferred sentence after he pleaded guilty to felony assault with a weapon. As a condition of his deferred sentence, the court ordered Wilson to attend the boot camp program at the Treasure State Correctional Training Center and emphasized that the sentence was “very lenient given the seriousness of the crime.”
Wilson had a history of mental health and behavioral issues. Dr. William Stratford (“Dr. Stratford”) diagnosed Wilson with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”) and rapid cycling bipolar disorder during a sentencing consultation in 2007. Dr. Stratford prescribed a regimen of Abilify, Vyvanse, and Lamictal to manage Wilson’s mental health issues. These medications reportedly improved Wilson’s behavior.
In January 2009, Wilson entered the boot camp program. He failed to bring his prescriptions and medications to boot camp, and consequently, the officials did not allow him to take his medication during the entirety of the program. Within two weeks of his arrival, the program terminated Wilson for disruption, failing to adhere to program rules, and interfering with staff.
The district court held a revocation hearing upon the recommendation of Wilson’s probation officer, followed by a second hearing focused on why the boot camp did not allow Wilson to take his medication. At the second hearing, the parties agreed to provide Wilson another opportunity to complete boot camp in a non-MSP facility. The court sent Wilson to a “pre-booter” program at the Missoula Assessment and Sanction Center (“MASC”) to prepare him for boot camp. After MASC terminated Wilson for inappropriate behavior, the State reinstated its motion to revoke Wilson’s deferred sentence.
At a subsequent revocation hearing on September 10, 2009, Wilson requested to be sent to a rehabilitation program because MSP policies did not allow inmates to take Vyvanse for security reasons. Despite Dr. Stratford’s testimony that Wilson could not succeed in any correctional program without Vyvanse, Abilify, and Lamictal, and in light of Wilson’s prior failures in rehabilitation programs, the district court committed him to MSP for twenty years with fifteen years suspended, concluding that MSP would provide him with adequate mental health care.
When Wilson entered MSP on September 23, 2009, MSP’s psychiatric physician, Dr. David Schaefer (“Dr. Schaefer”), diagnosed him with major depression and anxiety disorder, for which he prescribed Celexa and Wellbutrin. Wilson reported to Dr. Schaefer that the medications made him feel better, and his behavior at MSP improved.
On December 22, 2009, Wilson filed a petition for post-conviction relief, arguing the denial of his necessary prescription medication—Vyvanse—violated his Eighth Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment under both the United States Constitution and the Montana Constitution and his right to individual dignity under the Montana Constitution. Wilson offered no new evidence to the district court, but he claimed that the lack of proper medication exacerbated his mental health issues, causing him to behave poorly, thereby increasing his sentence. He requested that the district court resentence him to a private residential setting.” The district court heard testimony from both Dr. Schaefer and Dr. Stratford, whose opinions varied regarding the appropriate medications for Wilson. Concluding that the issues raised by Wilson were decided in previous hearings, the district court accordingly denied his petition for post-conviction relief. Wilson appealed the denial to the Montana Supreme Court.
On appeal, the Court noted that the district court was in the best position to gauge Dr. Stratford’s and Dr. Schaefer’s credibility and weigh the evidence, and thus it refused to reverse its sentence. The Court then considered Wilson’s central issue on appeal: whether the denial of Vyvanse violated Wilson’s rights under the United States Constitution and Montana Constitution.
The Court first relied on federal jurisprudence as persuasive authority on the issue of cruel and unusual punishment. The Court looked to the United States Supreme Court’s two-part test from Farmer v. Brennan, to determine whether an alleged deprivation of medical treatment violated the Eighth Amendment. Under the Farmer test, an inmate must demonstrate he suffered “a serious deprivation that results in the denial of the ‘minimal civilized measure of life’s necessities’” and “that a prison official acted with deliberate indifference to the inmate’s health and safety.” Turning to Montana jurisprudence, the Montana Supreme Court noted that the right of individual dignity granted by the Montana Constitution “provide[s] Montana citizens greater protections from cruel and unusual punishment than does the federal constitution.” The Court pointed out that Walker v. State set forth “the standard for determining deliberate indifference as it applies to improper psychiatric care in Montana.”
Under the Walker standard, Wilson had to demonstrate that prison officials “consciously disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to [his] health or safety” and deprived him of his “basic necessities of human existence.” In order to do so, Wilson had to show that the prison conditions inflicted or greatly exacerbated a mental illness or deprived him of his sanity.
The Court found that MSP did not “consciously [disregard] a serious risk of substantial harm to Wilson’s health.” Supporting this conclusion, and demonstrating the deference given to the district court’s findings, the Court noted that Wilson received frequent psychiatric visits at MSP and that Dr. Schaefer “intentionally chose not to [prescribe] Vyvanse . . . because he did not believe that it was an appropriate medication.” Instead, Dr. Schaefer prescribed different medications—Wellbutrin and Celexa—to treat Wilson’s mental illness. Further, the Court noted that Wilson’s behavior improved at MSP on the medications Dr. Schaefer prescribed, and that Wilson told Dr. Schaefer that the medications made him feel better.
Recognizing that Wilson displayed mental and behavioral problems at MSP, the Court pointed out that he also exhibited problems in rehabilitation programs. Moreover, the Court surmised that time spent in a correctional setting “often exacerbates behavioral problems in young inmates.” Notwithstanding Wilson’s exhibited mental and behavioral issues and the propensity of a correctional setting to aggravate them, the Court determined that he “failed to show that the conditions at MSP greatly . . . exacerbated his mental illness or deprived him of his sanity.”
In dissent, Justice Nelson opined that Wilson’s case closely resembled Walker. Justice Nelson emphasized that the three medications Dr. Stratford prescribed stabilized Wilson while those Dr. Schaefer prescribed did not. Justice Nelson reasoned that because MSP denied Dr. Stratford’s prescribed medications, it violated Wilson’s rights of individual dignity and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.
The Montana practitioner should take note that when an inmate seeks postconviction relief for improper psychiatric care, the Montana Supreme Court will apply a highly fact-dependent, case-by-case approach. A factual record demonstrating that an inmate was provided consistent, effective psychiatric care while incarcerated will likely bar an inmate’s entitlement to post-conviction relief on Eighth Amendment or individual dignity grounds.
––Jeffrey R. Kuchel