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

Mandatory Disclosure of Sexual History in Conjunction with a Treatment Program for a Convicted Sexual Offender as a Condition of Probation Struck Down

United States v. Antelope, 395 F.3d 1128 (9th Cir. 2005)

The courts continue to wrestle with the nature of the conditions that can be placed on sexual offenders who are permitted to return to the community.  An individual convicted of possessing child pornography after he ordered a child pornography video over the Internet was initially sentenced to five years probation....

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Death Sentence Reversed Because Prosecution Failed to Provide Defense with a Parole File Containing Exculpatory Mental Health Evidence; Ruling Not Disturbed

Head v. Stripling, 590 S.E.2d 122 (Ga. 2003)

In Brady v. Maryland (1963), the U.S. Supreme Court established that the prosecution has a responsibility to provide the defense with material, exculpatory evidence in its possession and that a failure to do so is grounds for overturning a conviction. Questions have periodically arisen over when this responsibility to disclose extends to evidence pertaining to the defendant's mental status...

Found in DMHL Volume 24 Issue 2

Sex Offender Registration/Therapy Can’t Be Condition Parole on TX Inmates Convicted of Non-Sexual Offense Without Finding They’re Threat to Society Because Lack of Sexual Control; Ruling Not Disturbed

Coleman v. Dretke, 395 F.3d 216 (5th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 427 (2005)

Texas sometimes requires sex offender registration and sex offender therapy as a condition of release on parole from incarceration.  While SVP commitment requires a hearing and is generally limited to offenders convicted of a specified sexual offense, these parole conditions could be imposed without a hearing and regardless of whether the inmate had been convicted of a sexual offense...

Found in DMHL Volume 25 Issue 1

Arkansas Denies Insanity Acquittee Appeal

Hughes v. State of Arkansas, 2011 Ark. 147; 2011 Ark. LEXIS 134 (April 7, 2011)

The Arkansas Supreme Court has held that a defendant who was acquitted of a criminal offense as a result of mental disease or defect and committed to a mental health facility could not appeal his acquittal because the Court only has jurisdiction to hear appeals of criminal “convictions.” The defendant in this case was charged with the offense of terroristic threatening by threatening to cause death or serious physical injury to the congregation of Harvest Time Tabernacle Church. Upon questioning by police, the defendant threatened to kill himself, asked for a gun and cried like a baby. The prosecution moved the trial court for an evaluation of the defendant’s competency to stand trial, which the court ordered. Upon receipt of the evaluation report, the defendant moved to exclude the evaluation. The trial court denied the motion and proceeded to hear evidence on the underlying charge. After hearing the evidence, the trial judge found the defendant had committed the offense but suffered from a mental disease or defect and did not have the capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. He therefore acquitted the defendant, but committed him to a mental health facility. The defendant appealed on the grounds that the court erred by finding he committed the offense of terroristic threatening and by compelling him to use the affirmative defense of mental disease or defect, thereby depriving him of his constitutional right of trial by jury.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 4

Ninth Circuit Sets Out Test for Determining When Mental Impairment Tolls Statute of Limitations for Filing Federal Habeas

Bills v. Clark, 628 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2010)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has established a 2-part test to determine when a prisoner’s mental impairment tolls the one-year statute of limitations for filing a federal habeas corpus petition under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. The United States Supreme Court had previously upheld Eleventh Circuit determinations finding that the one-year statute of limitations must be tolled if equitable circumstances exist beyond a prisoner’s control preventing him from filing on time. The prisoner must establish that 1) he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and 2) some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way. Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. __, 130 S.Ct. 2549, 177 L.Ed.2d 130 (2010). In determining whether a mental disability constitutes such an extraordinary circumstance, a petitioner must show that the disability severely impaired his ability to meet the filing deadline despite diligent efforts to do so.

In this case, while serving a sentence for other charges, the prisoner was charged with possession of a sharp instrument by a state prisoner and was sentenced to 25 years to life. The prisoner appealed his conviction and after the time expired for a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, he pursued state habeas proceedings. Thereafter, he filed a late habeas petition in federal court alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. Noting the unusually long sentence, the court appointed counsel to represent him. Counsel argued that the petition should not be dismissed as untimely filed due to the prisoner’s inability to read and write, neurological deficits, borderline to mild mental retardation, concurrent psychosis and lack of assistance available to him. The prisoner’s expert psychologist testified that he had been diagnosed as bipolar with a variety of behavioral and cognitive disorders, and that he could not understand his legal rights sufficiently to make rational choices. The record reflected, however, that the prisoner had prepared a number of administrative and judicial filings, including a pro se habeas petition in 2000 and an administrative complaint regarding medical care in 2001. He had also represented himself pro se at his trial on this charge. The district court denied the late filing finding that his mental capacity was not sufficiently severe to impede his filing of a timely petition based on his second grade reading level and its finding that a jail house lawyer had been available to help with the filing of the petition.

In setting out the standard for review, the Ninth Circuit stated that there must be a causal connection between the petitioner’s mental disability and the ability to file the petition. The Court determined that the relevant question is whether the mental impairment caused the untimely filing and set out the following two-part test:

1. The petitioner must show that the mental impairment was an extraordinary circumstance beyond his control demonstrating an impairment so severe that either

a. The petitioner was unable to rationally or factually personally understand the need to timely file, or
b. The petitioner’s mental state rendered him unable to personally prepare a habeas petition and effectuate its filing.

2. The petitioner must show diligence in pursing claims to the extent he could understand them, but that the mental impairment made it impossible to meet the filing deadline under the totality of the circumstances, including whether there was reasonably available access to assistance.

The Court found that this standard “flows naturally” from the Supreme Court’s rulings concerning competency to stand trial in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1969); competency to plead in Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993);and competency to represent oneself in Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008). In other words, the court must determine whether the petitioner is competent to do what the law requires. In examining the totality of the circumstances, the court:

1. must find that the petitioner has made a non-frivolous showing that he had a severe mental impairment during the filing period that would entitle him to an evidentiary hearing;
2. determine after considering the record whether the petitioner satisfied his burden that he was in fact mentally impaired;
3. determine whether the petitioner’s mental impairment made it impossible to timely file on his own; and
4. consider whether circumstances demonstrate the petitioner was otherwise diligent in attempting to comply with the filing requirements.

The Ninth Circuit remanded the case for the district court to apply the facts of the case to the standard articulated in its decision.

Found in DMHL Volume 30 Issue 5

Maine Finds Right to Competency in Post-Conviction Proceedings

Haraden v. State, 32 A.3d 448 (Maine 2011)

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled on November 17, 2011 that a convicted defendant has the statutory right to be competent during post-conviction proceedings. Although a defendant has no constitutional right of access to post-conviction proceedings to overturn his or her conviction, Maine has statutorily created a process whereby inmates may challenge their convictions, including setting time limits within which relief may be sought, the number of petitions that may be filed, the nature and scope of claims that may be pursued, and the type of relief that may be granted.15 M.R.S § 2130 (2010). As part of the post-conviction process, inmates are specifically given a statutory right to counsel. The Court therefore found that implied within that right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel. It then reasoned that counsel cannot effectively assist his client if his client cannot meaningfully communicate with him.

In this case, the inmate was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced to 52 years in prison. After his trial, conviction and appeal, the inmate raised factual allegations that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. On the inmate’s motion, the court ordered a mental evaluation by the State Forensic Service. The evaluation indicated that although the inmate was not psychotic, he was unable to assist his attorney in the post-conviction process. Based upon the evaluation, the trial court found him incompetent to proceed. The court then proceeded to decide the matter upon the legal issues presented, but continued those claims based upon factual contentions until such time as the inmate became competent. During that time period, the inmate was ordered to remain in the Department of Corrections and not be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services for restoration to competency.

In upholding the right found by the trial court, the Supreme Court was faced with a dilemma of how to proceed when an inmate may have a legitimate claim for release but cannot pursue it due to his incompetency. It therefore had to fashion a process to handle the prisoner’s claims. The Court determined that when an inmate’s competency is in question, the court must order an evaluation by the State Forensic Service. Because a defendant was presumed to be competent during trial, the burden rests on the inmate to prove his incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence. If he does so, the court must still proceed to adjudicate the inmate’s claims and defense counsel must represent the inmate to the best of his or her ability. Under Maine post-conviction law, an inmate must 1) file a post-conviction claim within one year and 2) may only seek post-conviction review once, raising all claims he may have in that petition or else they are considered waived. If the inmate is found to be incompetent, however, the Court then provided that an inmate may file an affidavit at a later date alleging that he had previously been found incompetent and has regained his competence as a result of the passage of time, medical intervention or some other substantial change. If the court then determines the inmate has regained competency, it must review the petition to determine whether, if the newly asserted evidence or grounds were true, the outcome of a post-conviction judgment would be different, and which, if any, of the defendant’s claims may be pursued despite the intervening delay. The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the inmate must remain in the custody of the Department of Corrections during the period of incompetency and not be transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services for restoration services. Presumably, the inmate could not then be ordered treated over his objection to restore him to competency.

Found in DMHL Volume 31 Issue 2

Tenth Circuit Finds Right to Counsel in Post-Conviction Proceeding to Determine Whether Mental Retardation Bars Imposition of Death Penalty; Rejects Use of Flynn Effect in Determining IQ

Hooks v. Workman, 689 F.3d 1148 (10th Cir. 2012)

Although there is no right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings, the Tenth Circuit has held that a capital defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel in a post-conviction (Atkins) hearing conducted after his original conviction to determine whether he is mentally retarded (intellectually disabled). Such a finding would bar imposition of the death penalty. The Court then proceeded to review each of the defendant’s claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, rejecting all of them except one, but finding no cumulative evidence or prejudice on that claim to warrant overturning the jury verdict. On review of the jury’s finding that the defendant was not mentally retarded, the Court found that the results of the defendant’s numerous IQ tests fell within a “gray” area, but the scores were not entitled to be adjusted downward due to the “Flynn” effect. Because there is no scientific consensus on its validity, failure to apply it is not “contrary to clearly established federal law.” Finally, the Court found that defendant’s trial counsel in the original trial was grossly ineffective during the sentencing phase, overturned the death sentence, and remanded the case to the Oklahoma courts for a new sentencing hearing.

Victor Hooks was convicted in 1989 of first degree murder of his common law wife and of first degree manslaughter of her unborn child. Hooks and his common law wife had lived together for four years and were the parents of a one-year-old daughter. His wife was also 24 weeks pregnant with their second child. After originally claiming that she had been beaten and raped while on a walk, Hooks confessed to police that they had been fighting, she slapped him, and he then struck her, knocked her to the ground and kicked her in the stomach and face. Subsequently he removed her clothing, put her in the bathtub, and shaved a portion of her head. Hooks then cleaned up the apartment and also removed blood from his one-year-old daughter who had been splattered in the course of her mother’s beating.

Hooks was represented at trial by a private attorney hired by his mother. His attorney decided not to pursue an insanity defense believing there was an insufficient factual basis for it, but focused on obtaining a conviction for a lesser-included offense of second degree murder or first degree manslaughter, arguing that Hooks acted in the heat of passion and not with malice aforethought. There was some information that Hooks had been hit by an 18-wheel truck as a child and suffered a traumatic brain injury, and also suffered from chronic psychosis. The evidence also showed that Hooks had abused his wife on prior occasions and was convicted of armed robbery of a liquor store several years earlier. The trial court refused to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses and the jury then found the defendant guilty of first degree murder, imposing the death penalty, and first degree manslaughter in the death of the unborn child, sentencing him to 500 years imprisonment on that charge.

Hooks challenged his convictions both on direct appeal and through post-conviction petitions for writs of habeas corpus. In 2002, 13 years after Hooks’ conviction, the United States Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 321 (2002) that, in light of a national consensus, the execution of a person with mental retardation is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment. Hooks then filed a second post-conviction petition alleging that he is mentally retarded. In 2004, after a six-day trial, a jury found him not to be mentally retarded. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the determination on both direct appeal and collateral review.

In deciding Atkins, the Supreme Court declined to establish a definition of mental retardation, but left it to the states to do so. In response to Atkins, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals established the following definition in case law:

A person is “mentally retarded” (1) [i]f he or she functions at a significantly sub-average intellectual level that substantially limits his or her ability to understand and process information, to communicate, to learn from experience or mistakes, to engage in logical reasoning, to control impulses, and to understand the reactions of others; (2) [t]he mental retardation manifested itself before the age of eighteen (18); and (3) the [m]ental retardation is accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning in at least two …skill areas….However, no person shall be eligible to be considered mentally retarded unless he or she has an intelligence quotient of seventy or below, as reflected by at least one scientifically recognized, scientifically approved, and contemporary intelligent quotient test.

Murphy v. State, 54 P.3d 556, 567-68 (Okla. Crim. App. 2002). A defendant has the burden of proving his mental retardation by a preponderance of the evidence.

Hooks had been administered IQ tests through the years and nine of these test results were presented to the jury with scores ranging from 53 to 80. The experts agreed that this range of scores put Hooks in a “gray area.” Tests of 70 or below, however, all reflected some degree of lack of cooperation on Hooks’ part. The experts agreed that the most reliable scores were those conducted by two of the experts of 72 and 76, neither of which met the 70 or below requirement. Hooks argued that these scores should be adjusted downward to reflect the “Flynn Effect.” The “Flynn Effect” is a phenomenon named for James R. Flynn who discovered that the population’s mean IQ score rises over time by approximately 0.3 points per year. If an individual’s test score is measured against a mean of a population sample from prior years, then his score will be inflated and will not provide an accurate picture of his IQ.

The Tenth Circuit rejected this argument finding that Oklahoma law does not require an adjustment for the “Flynn Effect,” nor did it find any scientific consensus on its validity. The Court held therefore that failure to apply the “Flynn Effect” was not “contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law,” the standard required to overturn a final state court determination on collateral review. Based upon all of the evidence presented, including other evidence related to Hooks’ functional capacity and his adaptive skills, the jury’s finding that he was not mentally retarded was not clearly erroneous.

Hooks also claimed that his counsel at his Atkins trial was ineffective on a number of legal grounds. The State argued that there is no right to counsel in post-conviction proceedings and therefore there is no basis for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in post-conviction Atkins hearings. The Tenth Circuit recognized that the United States Supreme Court has never held that there is a Sixth Amendment right to counsel in an Atkins hearing. It reasoned, however, that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to have counsel present at all critical stages of criminal proceedings. Although Hooks was convicted years before the Atkins decision and his trial to determine whether he is mentally retarded was necessarily a post-conviction proceeding, this hearing was the first proceeding at which he could raise this claim. The Court held that the Atkins trial is therefore part of the criminal proceeding and is inextricably intertwined with sentencing. It is thus not civil in nature, as post-conviction proceedings normally are. The right to counsel therefore “flows directly from, and is a necessary corollary to the clearly established law of Atkins.”

The Court then examined Hooks’ claims that his counsel was ineffective on the merits. Hooks argued that the standard articulated in United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648 (1984), where counsel’s representation fell so far short of that expected of defense counsel that prejudice was presumed, should be applied in his case. In Cronic, the Supreme Court found that some actions of counsel are so likely to prejudice the defendant that the cost of litigating their effect is unjustified and prejudice will be presumed. The Court found, however, that his counsel actively and zealously participated in all phases of the proceedings and therefore held that the standard in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), applied instead. In Strickland, a review of counsel’s performance is a highly deferential one and counsel is presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment. Although counsel failed in one aspect of representation, the Court found that failure was not cumulative or prejudicial to the hearing’s outcome.

The Court next reviewed the effectiveness of counsel at his original trial and found that Hooks counsel at trial in the conviction phase exercised a tactical decision not to raise an insanity defense because it lacked a factual basis. In the sentencing phase, however, the Court found counsel’s representation grossly deficient in his failure to conduct a through investigation or to produce any evidence in mitigation. He failed to challenge the prosecution’s aggravation evidence or to present evidence that revealed Hooks was raised in an abusive and chaotic family, suffered from a brain injury and suffered from chronic psychotic mental health problems, all of which could have elicited sympathy from a juror and mitigated his sentence. Moreover, counsel made his own statements to the jury related to Hooks’ violent tendencies and permitted his own expert to make prejudicial statements related to his violence. The Court therefore vacated the death sentence and remanded the case to the Oklahoma courts for a new sentencing hearing.

Found in DMHL Volume 32 Issue 1

Sex Offenders; Post-Sentence Civil Commitment

State v. LeMere, 879 N.W.2d 580 (Wis. 2016)

Wisconsin Supreme Court rejects offender’s post-conviction motion to withdraw his guilty plea to child sexual assault charges, where offender argued his attorney’s failure to advise him that he could be civilly committed as a violent sex offender violated his Sixth Amendment right.

Background: LeMere was charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault of a child under the age of 13, one count of second-degree reckless endangerment, and one count of strangulation and suffocation. A status conference became a plea hearing when counsel for the parties informed the court that they had negotiated a plea agreement. Under the agreement, LeMere agreed to plead guilty to first-degree sexual assault of a child under the age of 13 in exchange for the other two charges against him being dismissed. The court then informed LeMere about the consequences of a guilty plea, including the possibility of continued civil commitment after the completion of his criminal incarceration. LeMere indicated that he understood and the court noted that LeMere appeared capable of understanding the proceedings. At a subsequent sentencing hearing, the court ordered 30 years of initial confinement followed by 15 years of extended supervision. One year later LeMere filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and vacate his conviction. He argued ineffective assistance of counsel because he was not informed of the possibility of lifetime civil commitment as a sexually violent person. The circuit court denied the motion and the court of appeals affirmed.

Holding: On appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the failure to inform a defendant of the possibility of lifetime civil commitment does not form the basis of a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel and is not a violation of the Sixth Amendment.

Notable Points:

Failure to inform about the possibility of lifetime civil commitment as a sexually violent person distinguished from failure to inform about possibility of deportation: The Wisconsin Supreme Court distinguished this case from the failure to inform a defendant about the possibility of deportation, which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was a violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Wisconsin Supreme Court emphasized that unlike deportation, civil commitment is not automatic or penal in nature. The court also explained that civil commitment is not meant to be permanent and is rehabilitative in nature.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2

Sex Offenders; Conditions of Probation

Vermont v. Cornell, 2016 VT 47 (Vt. 2016)

Vermont Supreme Court rules that certain probation conditions placed by the trial court on a convicted sex offender improperly infringe on the offender’s liberty, privacy and autonomy rights.

Background: Owen Cornell was convicted of lewd and lascivious behavior with a 12- year-old boy in 2013. His prison sentence was suspended and multiple probation conditions were imposed. Cornell appealed the conditions, arguing that the “boilerplate” restrictions were invalid for a number of reasons (e.g., not sufficiently individualized, in violation of due process rights, impermissible delegation of authority to his probation officer). On remand, the trial court took consideration of additional information submitted by Cornell and testimony from his probation officer, then issued 21 new probation conditions. Cornell objected to six of the conditions, arguing that four of them had already been deemed unlawful in previous cases and two of them infringed on his liberty, privacy and autonomy rights under the U.S. and Vermont Constitutions.

Holding: The Vermont Supreme Court affirmed two conditions (prohibition on violent or threatening behavior; prohibition from places where children are known to congregate) and remanded as to four conditions. The Court found the delegation of authority to the probation officer to dictate treatment requirements to be overbroad. The Court found the condition of requiring probation officer approval for living and working location to be insufficiently specific to Cornell. The Court also agreed with Cornell that the condition requiring him to give search and seizure privileges to his probation officer was unconstitutional because it did not require reasonable suspicion for such searches. Finally, the Court found the condition imposing a blanket restriction on computer use to be overly restrictive, given that Cornell did not utilize any such technology in his offense. Concerning the computer restriction condition, the Court summarized, “We do not see a sufficient justification for such a sweeping restriction, which would render nearly all the activities of life incalculably difficult in the modern age, when such a condition would not have prevented the crime of which [a defendant] was convicted” (internal quotations removed, quoting U.S. v. Barsumyan, 517 F.3d 1154 (9th Cir. 2008)).

Notable Points:

Insufficiency of proof for “boilerplate” conditions: Prior to considering the specific challenges, the Court engaged in a brief excursus to note that the State’s “proof” concerning the appropriateness of probation conditions was insufficient, in that it merely rested upon the testimony of the probation officer that Cornell was a sex offender.

Balancing Fourth Amendment rights in sex offender cases: In the latter portion of the opinion the Court addressed the conditions that Cornell had argued infringed his liberty, privacy and autonomy rights. The Court discussed the balance of interests, including somewhat lessened rights of the probationer, but the overall need to narrowly tailor such conditions in order to avoid infringing liberty and privacy interests. The Vermont Supreme Court noted that some states (e.g., California, Indiana) have allowed suspicionless searches of probationers (and parolees), but that Vermont would continue to require reasonable suspicion for such searches.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2

Provider Liability; Claims by Third Parties

Holloway v. State, 875 N.W.2d 435 (Neb. 2016)

Nebraska Supreme Court rules that state mental health service providers not liable for injuries to victim of a shooting by a mentally ill person released from prison upon completion of his sentence. [Editor’s Note: An 8 th Circuit case related to the same incident, Glasgow v. State, is covered in this issue of DMHL.]

Background: On July 20, 2013, Nikko Jenkins was released from prison after serving 10.5 years of his 21-year sentence. While in prison, Jenkins engaged in numerous violent activities and repeatedly exhibited signs of a serious mental health problem. On August 24, Jenkins shot Shamecka Holloway as she walked in her front yard in Omaha, Nebraska. As a result of the shooting, Holloway suffered permanent damage and incurred medical bills; she sued the State, the state department of corrections, and the company that provided mental health services for the department and several of its providers. In her complaint, Holloway stated that the State’s responsibilities with respect to the inmates included assessing and evaluating inmates in order to determine the need for mental health commitment, and providing adequate advance notice to members of the public regarding the release of a prisoner who threatened serious bodily harm to others. The complaint further alleged that Jenkins had told Baker and staff evaluators that he would hurt others upon his release. Thus, Holloway claimed that the State knew or should have known of the foreseeability of harm to her once Jenkins was released, and mental health care providers owed a duty to the citizens of Nebraska to correctly evaluate and treat all inmates. The district court dismissed all claims brought by Holloway. Holloway appealed.

Holding: On appeal, the Supreme Court of Nebraska held that the district court did not err in dismissing Holloway’s complaint. The court found that the State and its employees were entitled to immunity from suit because whether to seek commitment falls under the “discretionary function” exception to the State Tort Claims Act. Further, the Supreme Court of Nebraska affirmed the district court’s ruling that Holloway failed to plead sufficient facts to show that the mental health care provider was liable.

Notable Points:

A state actor’s performance or nonperformance of a discretionary function cannot be the basis of liability: The State Tort Claims Act (“Act”) contains a discretionary function exception to the waiver of sovereign immunity for certain claims. A two-step analysis is used to determine whether the discretionary function exception applies. The court must first consider whether the action is a matter of choice for the acting employee. Under the applicable statute of the Nebraska Mental Health Commitment Act, whether to communicate a belief that another person is believed to be mentally ill and dangerous is a matter of choice. Thus, the first step of the analysis was satisfied. The second step requires that when a statute involves an element of judgment, the judgment must be of the particular kind that the discretionary function exception was designed to protect. The court concluded that the decision as to whether to report to the county that another person is thought to be mentally ill is a policy decision that the legislature intended to shield from liability.

Mental health treatment providers are only liable for failing to warn of a patient's threatened behavior under certain exceptional circumstances: A psychologist or mental health practitioner is not liable for failing to warn of a patient’s threatened violent behavior unless the patient has threatened violence toward a reasonably identifiable victim. Here, Jenkins did not specify a particular person but rather threatened the “citizens of Nebraska.” Another source of liability could be founded on a custodial relationship, but the court concluded a custodial relationship did not exist because CCS was only contracted to provide medical services for inmates, not to exercise any kind of custody over inmates.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2

Sex Offender; Probation Violation

Zebbs v. Com., 785 S.E.2d 493 (Va. Ct. App. 2016)

A defendant whose probation requirements necessitate a sex offender program may be held in violation of his probation when he refuses to abide by a central requirement of the program, namely admitting to the misconduct for which he was convicted. Defendant who entered an Alford plea is treated as if he entered a guilty plea after conviction; therefore, an admission of guilt to the crimes he was charged with does not invoke Fifth Amendment protection.

Background: Defendant Zebbs entered an Alford plea, pleading guilty to forcible sodomy, among two other charges. An Alford plea is treated the same as a guilty plea after the defendant is tried and convicted. Zebbs was required to successfully complete a sex offender treatment program to satisfy the terms of his probation, among other terms. Admitting to the offense for which the offender received probation is a mandatory part of the program. Zebbs refused to admit to his misconduct, arguing that it was a violation of his Fifth Amendment right to require him to verbally incriminate himself and punish him for not doing so. The circuit court found Zebbs in violation of his probation, and he subsequently appealed.

Holding: A valid Fifth Amendment claim must include an admission that may carry the risk of incrimination and a substantial penalty for not giving the incriminating testimony. There was no risk of incrimination here because the misconduct Zebbs was required to admit to had already been litigated and thus an admission after the fact would not give rise to incrimination. Double jeopardy would bar the prosecution of Zebbs for admitting to misconduct for which he had been tried and convicted. Therefore, the Fifth Amendment did not protect Zebbs from cooperating with the sex offender treatment terms and the circuit court did not err in finding that he violated his probation by not completing the treatment.

Found in DMHL Volume 35, Issue 2