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United States v. Phelps

United States District Court, D. Montana, Helena Division

September 18, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES LEE PHELPS, Defendant.

          FINDINGS OF FACT & CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          CHARLES C. LOVELL, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter came before the Court on Defendant's pro se motion to terminate supervision and a memorandum from his supervising probation officer requesting a hearing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4243 to assess the need for continued supervision or the appropriateness of supervision being terminated. In response to Defendant'spro se motion and the probation officer's hearing request, the Court set down a release hearing for September 7, 2018. The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether Defendant's unconditional release from supervision would create a substanial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage to property of another due to a present mental disease or defect.

         Defendant Phelps (Mr. Phelps) appeared at his hearing via video from Burlington, Vermont. His counsel, Michael Donahoe, was present in person, as was counsel for the United States, Paulette Stewart. The Court heard testimony from Mr. Phelps and the following witnesses, who also appeared by video from Vermont: Miro Passe, Mr. Phelps's case manager at the Howard Center; Dr. Sandra Steingard, Mr. Phelps's treating psychiatrist at the Howard Center; and Louis Stazi, Mr. Phelps's United States Probation Officer.

         Based on the evidence presented at the September 7, 2018, hearing, and the record in this case, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. On June 6, 2005, the Court held a bench trial and found that Mr. Phelps had committed two federal offenses (setting timber on fire and malicious destruction of federal property) but that he suffered from a severe mental disease (schizophrenia, undifferentiated type) that made hm unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. The Court therefore found him not guilty only by reason of insanity.

         2. In November of 2005, the Court conducted a "dangerousness hearing" under 18 U.S.C. § 4243. The Court held that the Defendant failed to meet his burden of proof by the "clear and convincing evidence" standard that "his release would not create a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage of property of another due to a present mental disease or defect," 18 U.S.C. § 4243(d). Defendant was remanded to the custody of the Attorney General and was placed in Federal Medical Center, Devins, in Massachusetts.

         3. On January 25, 2008, the Court granted Mr. Phelps conditional release, based on 18 U.S.C. § 4243(f) and the filing by Warden Sabol (Federal Medical Center, Devins) of a "Certificate of Improved Mental Condition and Request for Conditional Release from Hospitalization."

         4. The conditions of release imposed by the Court in January of 2008 included a requirement that Mr. Phelps was to be supervised by the United States Probation Office, District of Vermont, and was to reside at the Next Door Residential Program, operated by the Howard Center, in Burlington, Vermont.

         5. Dr. Steingard first met Mr. Phelps in 2007, when she conducted the initial assessment regarding his release to the Howard Center. She has continued to serve as his treating psychiatrist since that time.

         6. United States Probation Officer Stazi (PO Stazi) began supervising Mr. Phelps in January of 2008, and has continued to supervise him since that time.

         7. In October of 2010, the Court modified Defendant Phelps's conditions to allow him to reside outside the Howard Center. This modification was requested by PO Stazi and consented to by Mr. Phelps.

         8. Over the years, PO Stazi has reduced the intensity of his supervision of Mr. Phelps based on Mr. Phelps's compliance with his conditions of supervision and with the schedule established by the Howard Center. PO Stazi has observed Mr. Phelps's comfort level with living independently in the community improve during the years he has supervised Mr. Phelps.

         9. PO Stazi is unaware of any time in the last 10 years that Mr. Phelps has violated a condition of release. PO Stazi has observed nothing in Mr. Phelps's behavior over the last 10 years to ...


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