Competence to stand trial; ineffective assistance of counsel

Anderson v. United States, 865 F.3d 914 (7th Cir. 2017)

Seventh Circuit rules that defendant who had entered guilty plea to a felony charge is entitled to a hearing on whether he was competent at the time to enter that plea, as neither his counsel nor the court made adequate inquiries despite evidence of his serious mental illness.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Competency to be executed

Panetti v. Davis, 863 F.3d 366 (5th Cir. 2017)

Fifth Circuit finds petitioner who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death has a due process right to a hearing and funds for counsel and mental health experts to pursue a claim that he is not competent to be executed due to his serious mental illness.

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 3

Execution of incompetent defendant

Madison v. Alabama Dept. of Corrections, 851 F.3d 1173 (11th Cir. 2017)

Eleventh Circuit holds that defendant who, as a result of dementia developing after his conviction for capital murder had become incapable of remembering or understanding that he had committed the crime for which he was to be executed, was incompetent for execution under Ford v. Wainwright and Panetti v. Quarterman

Found in DMHL Volume 36, Issue 2

Connecticut Supreme Court Applies Sell to Determination of Whether Defendant Can Be Forcibly Treated to Restore Competence

State v. Jacobs, 828 A.2d 587 (Conn. 2003)

The Supreme Court of Connecticut has issued one of the first appellate opinions applying the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Sell v. United States (2003) to a determination of whether involuntary medication can be authorized to render a defendant competent to stand trial.  The defendant was charged with breach of the peace, simple trespass, assault of a peace officer, carrying a dangerous weapon, and interference with an officer, which carried a combined maximum punishment of 14 years.  Subsequent to the defendant being found incompetent to stand trial, the trial court ordered treatment with psychotropic medication to restore the defendant's competence to stand trial.  The defendant appealed, claiming forced medication would violate his constitutional rights under the first amendment (i.e., his right to free speech or the right to free thought and communication), sixth amendment (i.e., his right to a fair trial), and fourteenth amendment (i.e., his interest in privacy or liberty).  The state argued this question was limited to whether the defendant's fourteenth amendment rights were infringed...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Compulsory Arbitration Agreement Negated by Mental Incapacity

Spahr v. Secco, 330 F.3d 1266 (10th Cir. 2003); 71(48) U.S. Law Week 1763-64 (June 17, 2003)

An investor filed a lawsuit against his brokerage firm and alleged the firm was negligent in allowing the broker with whom he dealt to handle his account because she was "legendary" in the brokerage community for convincing elderly men to loan her money in exchange for sex.  The brokerage firm responded that the investor's investment account agreement contained an arbitration clause covering all related disputes and asserted that as a result the claim must be resolved by an arbitrator and not a court.  In reply, the investor alleged that he was incapable of managing his financial affairs because he has dementia and Alzheimer's disease and thus the account agreement and its arbitration clause were unenforceable...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Defendant Found Incompetent to Stand Trial Must Initially Be Hospitalized, Even if Unlikely to Be Restored to Competence, Not Disturbed

United States v. Ferro, 321 F.3d 756 (8th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, Ferro v. United States, 124 S. Ct. 296 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling of the Eighth Circuit that joined the First, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits in holding that an initial period of hospitalization is mandatory for a criminal defendant in the federal system who has been found incompetent to stand trial, even when the evidence shows he is unlikely to be restored to competence.  The Eighth Circuit ruled the trial court did not have the discretion, prior to a reasonable period of hospitalization, to determine whether the defendant will likely attain the capacity to stand trial.  The court determined hospitalization permitted a more careful and accurate diagnosis; the limited length of the hospitalization, a maximum of four months, minimized the potential harm to the defendant; and the "miracles of science suggest that few conditions are truly without the possibility of improvement."...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Ruling that Officials Can Force Convicted Murderer to Take Medication to Make Sane Enough to Be Executed Not Disturbed

Singleton v. Norris, 319 F.3d 1018 (8th Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 124 S. Ct. 74 (2003)

The Supreme Court declined to review a ruling by the Eighth Circuit that allowed Arkansas officials to force a convicted murderer to take medication intended to make him sane enough to be executed.  In 1986 the Supreme Court held that executing an insane individual violates the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause. However, the Supreme Court has not ruled on whether an individual can be forcibly medicated to be made sane enough to qualify for an execution...

Found in DMHL Volume 23 Issue 1

Connecticut Physicians Who Submitted Reports About the Competence of a Psychiatrist to Practice Safely Were Not Entitled to Absolute Immunity

Chadha v. Charlotte Hungerford Hosp., 865 A.2d 1163 (Conn. 2005)

State licensing boards or a corresponding legislatively designated agency typically have the authority to investigate licensed practitioners and to discipline them for unprofessional conduct.  However, these boards and agencies generally have limited resources to engage in routine surveillance of the activities of licensed practitioners and generally do not undertake an investigation unless a report of unprofessional conduct has been filed with them...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Missouri Court Rules Individual Need Not Be Competent Before a Sexually Violent Predator Commitment Hearing Can Be Held; Supreme Court Declines Review

Missouri v. Kinder, 129 S.W.3d 5 (Mo. Ct. App. 2003), cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 480 (2004)

Many states in recent years have enacted laws that permit convicted sexual offenders to be civilly committed as a sexually violent predator upon the completion of their criminal sentence.  It is well established that a criminal defendant must be competent to stand trial before the defendant can be convicted...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 1

Fourth Circuit Adopts Narrow Test for Determining Incompetence to Be Executed

Walton v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 160 (4th Cir. 2006)

Sitting en bane, the Fourth Circuit in a seven­ to-six ruling held that the test for determining whether a criminal defendant is competent to be executed is limited to whether the condemned inmate is able to comprehend that he or she is sentenced to death and the reason why...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 2

Defendants Found Incompetent to Be Sentenced Also Entitled to Sell's Protections from Treatment over Objection; Ruling Not Disturbed

United States v. Baldovinos, 434 F.3d 233 (4th Cir. 2006), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 1407 (2006)

The United States Supreme Court, in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), held that governmental officials, under limited circumstances, can obtain a court order to administer over objection antipsychotic drugs to restore the competence of defendants found incompetent to stand trial, even though it had not been shown they were dangerous to themselves or others.  Because it believed that most cases can and should be resolved by first focusing on the defendant's dangerousness to self or others, an independent basis for forcible medication established in Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210 (1990), the Court indicated that it thought few Sell orders would be needed and that the protections it mandated would limit the imposition of what was acknowledged to be a significant invasion of a defendant's constitutionally protected liberty interest in avoiding the involuntary administration of these drugs and their side effects...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 2

Wife Was Competent to Execute a Settlement Agreement Even Though Treating Psychiatrist Testified That When He Saw Her Four Days Later She Was in "Acute Stage" of Bipolar Affective Disorder

Arey v. Arey, No. 0801-05-3, 2005 WL 2205646 (Va. Ct. App. Sept. 13, 2005)

To be binding, both parties to a contractual agreement must be mentally competent. Under Virginia law, each party is presumed to be competent and a party later seeking to establish incompetence has a "heavy burden" to show by clear and convincing evidence that the person "lacked the capacity to understand the nature and consequences" of the transaction.  A failure to exercise good judgment or to make wise decisions will not establish a party's incompetence...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Young Girl Competent to Testify During Criminal Proceeding

Avalos v. Commonwealth, No. 2874-03-4, 2005 WL 1429772 (Va. Ct. App. June 21, 2005)

The Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that a young girl, whose exact age was not given, was competent to testify in a criminal proceeding.  The defendant in the case had been convicted of animate object sexual penetration of a child under the age of 13.  He claimed that the alleged victim was incompetent to testify because she did not independently remember the incident, had a limited capacity to recall the events, and did not understand or affirm the oath administered prior to her testimony...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Texas Supreme Court Upholds SVP Commitments and Concludes That Incompetent Individuals Can Be Committed; Ruling Not Disturbed

In re Commitment of Fisher, 164 S.W.3d 637 (Tex. 2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 428 (2005)

Like at least sixteen other states, Texas permits a court to commit individuals who suffer from behavioral abnormalities that make them likely to engage in a predatory act of sexual violence.   Unlike other states, persons adjudged to be a sexually violent predator (SVP) in Texas are committed to outpatient treatment and supervision. However, a violation of an associated imposed constraint is categorized as a third-degree felony and can result in jail or prison time...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Competence to Stand Trial Determination Should Be Closely Reviewed; Stale Evaluations Insufficient Basis for Findings of Competence; Ruling Not Disturbed

Maxwell v. Roe, 113 Fed. Appx. 213 (9th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 125 S. Ct. 2513 (2005)

The Ninth Circuit ordered a rehearing on a California trial judge's  ruling that a defendant was competent to stand trial (CST).  Although considerable deference is typically given to a trial judge's factual determinations, the Ninth Circuit held that CST determinations should be reviewed more closely because a defendant who is incompetent to stand trial is also incompetent to develop an adequate factual record on this issue or to assist his or her attorney in doing so.  The Ninth Circuit added that a trial judge has a continuing, affirmative responsibility to ensure that a defendant is not tried while incompetent and the judge should not conclude that a defendant is CST merely because the attorney representing the defendant did not pursue the matter...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Mentally Incompetent Defendant Has No Due Process Right Against Being Tried, Committed and Treated as Sexually Violent Predator

Moore v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County, California, 237 P.3d 530 (2010)

Overturning the decision of the California Court of Appeals, the California Supreme Court in a split decision has ruled that a mentally incompetent defendant has no due process right to avoid being tried and committed as a sexually violent predator. The court held that due process does not require mental competence on the part of someone undergoing a commitment or recommitment trial, which is a civil proceeding under the California Sexually Violent Predators Act. The strong governmental interest in protecting the public through the proper confinement and treatment of SVP's would be substantially thwarted by recognizing an SVP's right to delay or avoid confinement and treatment for a sexually violent mental disorder because his problems render him incompetent to stand trial. Recognition of such a due process right could prevent an SVP determination from being made at all. Such a scenario could often recur and would undermine the purpose and operation of the Act. The court found that public safety could suffer as a result.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1

Fourth Circuit holds Government Cannot Forcibly Medicate Incompetent Defendant Due to Special Circumstances.

United States v. White, 620 F.3d 401 (4th Cir. 2010)

In United States v. White, 620 F.3d 401 (4th Cir. 2010), the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the government’s usually strong interest in prosecuting someone charged with six felony offenses was too diminished in this case by “special circumstances” to make it constitutional to involuntarily medicate the defendant with antipsychotic drugs to restore her competency to stand trial. The defendant, charged with conspiracy, credit card fraud and identity theft, had already spent 41 months locked up and the estimate was that it would take another ten months before she would be competent to stand trial if treated with medication.

Prior to involuntarily medicating a defendant to restore his competency to stand trial, the United States Supreme Court held in Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), that the government must establish that the treatment must 1) serve an important government interest, 2) be substantially likely to succeed without significant side effects, 3) be necessary in light of alternatives, and 4) be “medically appropriate.” Applying the Sell standard, the 4th Circuit found in United States v. Bush, 585 F.3d 806 (4th Cir. 2009) that the government must establish the Sell requirements by clear and convincing evidence. It also held that the government must establish not only that it has an important interest in involuntarily medicating the defendant, but also that this interest is not mitigated by special circumstances in a particular case.

Courts have generally found that a ten year maximum sentence constitutes a sufficiently serious crime to establish an important governmental interest. In this case, the defendant’s sentence if found guilty would likely range from 42-51 months; she had already been confined for 41 months; and the estimate was that it would take another ten months to render her competent. In addition, the crime charged was nonviolent; she was not a danger to herself or the public; her conviction met requirements for the federal ban on possession of firearms; and there was considerable ambiguity as to the side effects and effectiveness of antipsychotic medication because she suffered from a “rare form of delusional disorder.” Of note, Judge Barbara Milano Keenan added a concurring opinion stating that this case was not one of those exceptional cases contemplated by Sell and that a contrary ruling would come “perilously close to a forcible medication regime best described…as routine.” The Court therefore refused to authorize the government to forcibly medicate the defendant to restore her competency to stand trial.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 1

Government Fails to Carry Burden to Forcibly Medicate Incompetent Defendant

United States v. Ruiz-Gaxiola, 623 F.3d 684 (9th Cir. 2010)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed the decision of the trial court and found that the Government did not meet its burden of establishing by clear and convincing evidence the Sell factors authorizing treatment of a defendant over his objection.

The defendant in this case, a Mexican citizen with an extensive criminal history of drug offenses, was charged with illegal reentry into the United States. Diagnosed with a delusional disorder, grandiose type, he was found incompetent to stand trial and sent to Butner Correctional Institution in North Carolina for treatment. At an administrative hearing, the defendant was found not to be a danger to himself or others in the institutional setting and did not suffer from a grave disability justifying involuntary medication. Thus the sole issue before the court was whether the defendant could be medicated over objection for the purpose of restoring his competency to stand trial.

Under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), the government must prove by clear and convincing evidence each of the factors enunciated by the United States Supreme Court: 1) that important governmental interests are at stake; 2) involuntary medication will significantly further that interest, i.e. it is substantially likely to restore defendant to competency and substantially unlikely to cause side effects that would impair significantly his ability to assist in his defense; 3) involuntary medication is necessary to further those governmental interests; and 4) treatment with medication is medically appropriate.

The magistrate judge considered the evidence and concluded that the government had proved its case. The Court of Appeals reversed finding that this case does not present one of those rare circumstances permitting medication over objection to render the defendant competent to stand trial and the government had not met its burden under Sell’s second and fourth prong. Although the defendant had never been treated with antipsychotic medications, the Court held that the government must prove what the medication will do, not what it is designed to do. The appellate court discounted the testimony of the government’s experts and relied on the testimony of the defendant’s expert who testified that the medication was likely to worsen his rare and difficult to treat mental disorder and increase his delusional thinking, especially based upon his inferiority feelings and hypersensitivity to powerlessness. It found that treatment with haldol would also unduly subject him to the risk of tardive dyskinesia. The court therefore found that treatment with medication was medically inappropriate.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 3

California Supreme Court Finds No Denial of Due Process in Requiring Convicted Defendant to Prove Incompetence to Stand Trial

People v. Ary, 120 Cal. Rptr.3d 431, 246 P.3d 322 (2011)

The California Supreme Court has determined that a defendant is not denied due process of law when he is required to carry the burden of proving that he was incompetent to stand trial at a retrospective hearing to determine his competency. The defendant in this case was charged with murder and other related felonies. At trial, the defendant moved to suppress his confession and presented psychiatric evidence that he was mildly mentally retarded. The trial court found that he had voluntarily waived his Miranda rights, but found that the confession was coerced and suppressed it. The jury convicted the defendant of murder but was unable to decide upon whether to recommend the death penalty. The court then declared a mistrial on the sentencing issue and sentenced him to life in prison.

On appeal, the Intermediate Court of Appeals determined that the trial judge had erred in failing to evaluate whether the defendant was competent to stand trial and remanded the case for such a determination first as to whether sufficient evidence existed to determine whether the defendant had been competent to stand trial and, if so, to conduct a competency hearing. The trial court found upon remand that evidence of the defendant’s mental condition was still available and it was feasible to retrospectively determine his competency at the time of the original trial, and proceeded to conduct the competency hearing. Over the defendant’s objection that the prosecution should prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was competent to stand trial, the judge placed the burden on the defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he was mentally incompetent when tried. After a retrospective hearing, the trial court found the defendant competent.

On appeal, the Intermediate Court of Appeals concluded that, in contrast to the burden of proof allocation at competency hearings held before or during trial, at a retrospective competency hearing federal due process principles require the prosecution to bear the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is competent to stand trial. The Attorney General’s Office appealed to the California Supreme Court which reversed finding that the trial court appropriately placed the burden on the defendant. The California Supreme Court noted that a defendant is presumed competent and that the United States Supreme Court had previously upheld California’s imposition of the burden at the pretrial stage on the defendant to prove incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence. Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437 (1992). It was therefore appropriate in retrospective hearings to also place the burden on the defendant. In order to impose such a burden post-trial and for the court to consider such an issue, however, the Court held that there must be sufficient evidence available to reliably determine defendant’s mental competence after the fact.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 6

First Circuit Denies Habeas Relief That Counsel Was Ineffective in Failing to Request Competency Evaluation

Robidoux v. O’Brien, 643 F.3d 334 (1st Cir. 2011)

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has denied habeas corpus relief to a petitioner who was convicted of first degree murder in Massachusetts who allowed his 11-month old son to die based upon his religious beliefs. He argued that his counsel at trial was ineffective because he had an obligation to seek a competency to stand trial evaluation and that he failed to raise an insanity or diminished capacity defense.

The defendant in this case was a member of a religious sect led by his father that believed that a number of institutions, including the legal system, medical system and mainstream religion were invalid and its members were instructed to eschew doctors and medicines. The evidence showed that until he was about 8 months old, the child was thriving and well nourished, but about that time the defendant’s sister got a “leading,” instructing that the mother should feed the child only breast milk in limited quantities. Thereafter, the infant began to fail. The defendant and his wife failed to take the infant to a doctor or to provide him with a proper diet. The day after the sect conducted a special meeting to pray for the child, he died. After concealing the body in his sister’s house for several months, the defendant buried the baby in Maine. The police located the body a year after the burial when a defector from the sect reported the death to authorities.

At trial, the defendant argued that the prosecution could not prove the cause of death was malnutrition, based upon the testimony of his forensic expert that the infant could have died from any number of causes. The chief medical examiner testified that the condition of the decomposed body was indicative of severe malnutrition due to starvation. The defendant testified in his own defense that he had no intent to harm the child. The jury convicted him of first degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.

In seeking habeas corpus relief, the defendant argued primarily that his counsel should have pursued an insanity or diminished capacity defense based upon three affidavits, the first from a psychologist who never interviewed the defendant stating that the defendant was unable to appreciate or understand that it was wrong to deprive his son of solid food. The Director of the New England Institute for Religious Research stated that the defendant’s father exercised undue influence over him and other sect members that made it impossible for counsel to present an adequate defense. The defendant himself filed an affidavit stating that counsel discussed the insanity defense with him, but he refused to talk with a doctor or psychotherapist prior to trial due to his religious beliefs.

The trial court found that counsel properly defended the case based upon the judge’s own observations of the defendant in court, the answers provided in colloquies from the bench, and his testimony at trial, even though he presented a rambling eve-of-trial motion to represent himself saying the government had no jurisdiction to try him, which she found appeared a tactic to delay trial. No fact-finding hearing was conducted on his competency to stand trial.

The First Circuit articulated the standard in ineffective assistance of counsel cases that there must be proof that counsel fell below the minimum standards of representation and there was a reasonable probability that the deficiency altered the outcome of the case. Where raising a particular defense is a strategy choice, counsel will be given special deference. On the other hand, if substantial indications exist that the defendant was not competent to stand trial, counsel is not faced with a strategy but with a settled obligation under Massachusetts and federal law to raise the issue with the court and seek a competency evaluation. Competency is a functional concept focusing on the defendant’s part in the trial, namely whether the defendant understands the nature of the proceedings against him and is able to assist counsel in his defense. In this case, it appears that he argued that the government had no legitimate authority over him, but he engaged in an intelligent and articulate colloquy with the court and as a witness. There was no evidence that the defendant had ever suffered from a mental illness or that he failed to understand the proceedings or cooperate with counsel. Although state court findings are generally accorded no deference absent an evidentiary hearing, there was no evidence presented that a competency hearing was necessary.

In addition, the 1st Circuit held that the defendant could decline to assert an insanity defense and refuse a psychiatric examination, which he apparently did. His current defense counsel argued that he suffered from a delusional disorder based on his religious illusions that God and prayer, not ordinary nourishment, would protect his son. He also argued that his diminished capacity prevented him from forming the necessary intent to support a conviction for first degree murder. The appellate court held that there was no evidence to support a mental illness and that the law provides for the denial of medical care in certain situations based upon religious beliefs, such as for example, those held by Christian Scientists and Seventh Day Adventists, but the evidence, including the defendant’s own testimony indicated that he understood the risk.

Found in DMHL Volume 31 Issue 1