Due process and capacity determinations in immigration proceedings

Diop v. Lynch, 807 F.3d 70 (4th Cir. 2015)

Immigration judge’s inquiry into appellant’s mental competence to participate in removal proceedings met due process requirements, and resultant denial of appellant’s request for further delay to obtain a mental health evaluation did not violate due process and is upheld on appeal

Background: Madiagne Diop, an alien and native of Senegal, who was diagnosed with psychosis. Following an arrest related to a psychotic episode at his workplace, Diop appeared before an immigration judge in Baltimore, Maryland five times between November 2012 and May 2013. At a hearing in December 2012, the immigration judge questioned Diop regarding his mental health and competency and found Diop competent to participate in the removal proceedings. In April 2013, Diop moved to administratively close or continue proceedings pending the passage of an immigration reform bill in Congress. The immigration judge refused and ordered Diop’s removal if he would not voluntarily depart. On June 6, 2013, Diop filed an appeal to the BIA arguing that the immigration judge should have administratively closed or continued the case in order to allow him to receive a psychological evaluation. The BIA found no clear error in the immigration judge’s determination of Diop’s competency, and Diop petitioned for review by the Fourth Circuit.

Holdings: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Diop’s procedural due process claim. It held that Diop’s procedural due process rights were satisfied by the immigration judge’s cautionary measure of assessing Diop’s competency in a separate hearing and “inquiring specifically about his mental health and ability to communicate with counsel.” Because competency has “long been considered an issue of fact,” the immigration judge’s finding of competency was reviewed under a “substantial evidence standard”: findings of competency are treated as conclusive unless the evidence presented “was such that any reasonable adjudicator would have been compelled to conclude the contrary.”

Notable Points:

The process for addressing competency in removal proceedings: The BIA stated that the immigration judge should start from a presumption of competency and that if there are no indicia of incompetency, the inquiry ends. It established a competency standard in Matter of M-A-M requiring (1) "rational and factual understanding of the nature and object of the proceedings," (2) ability to "consult with the attorney or representative if there is one," and (3) "a reasonable opportunity to examine and present evidence and cross-examine witnesses."

Found in Found in DMHL Volume 34, Issue 4