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United States v. Torres

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 16, 2017

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHNNY TORRES, Defendant.

          ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S COMPETENCY AND COMPETENCY TO PROCEED PRO SE

          JAMES M. HOPKINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE has come before this Court upon the Joint Motion by the Government and the defendant for a Mental Health Evaluation to determine the competency of the defendant to represent himself pro se and to stand trial (DE 9) and this Court's Order to determine competency (DE 10). This Court held hearings on September 1, 2017, and November 13, 2017. After having considered the motion, the evidence adduced at the hearing, and the applicable law, this Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

         BACKGROUND

         On March 23, 2017, the Defendant was charged in an Indictment with Failing to Register as a Sex Offender. (DE 1). The Defendant had his initial appearance on 3/24/17 (DEs 4, 38). At the request of the Defendant on that date this Court held a Faretta hearing and initially determined that he executed a knowing, intelligent and voluntary waiver of his right to counsel and this Court appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office as standby counsel. (DE 38, pgs 3-14). When this Court attempted to arraign the Defendant on the Indictment it became apparent that the Defendant did not understand the Indictment so this Court revoked the Defendant's pro se status and appointed the Federal Public Defender's Office to represent him. (DE 38, pg. 17). The Defendant was then arraigned.

         On March 31, 2017, the parties jointly moved to have the Defendant examined to see if he is competent to proceed to trial and to represent himself. (DEs 9, 10).

         At the initial competency hearing on 9/1/17, Bureau of Prisons forensic psychologist Dr. Lisa Feldman and the Defendant's forensic psychologist testified about their evaluations of the Defendant and their conclusions. (DE 36). Dr. Feldman testified that the Defendant was not cooperative and ultimately refused to provide her with his medical records of prior mental health evaluations. Dr. Feldman concluded that the Defendant lacked the ability to assist his attorney in his own defense. (DE 18, pg. 10). Dr. Fichera, who was exclusively given access to an attorney who represented the Defendant in civil commitment proceedings between 2006 and 2008, concluded that the Defendant was not suffering from a mental disease or defect that renders him unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to properly assist in his defense, and that he has the capacity to make an informed decision regarding self-representation. (DE 26-1).

         Since the Defendant had not provided, and the Government had not subpoenaed, the Defendant's extensive records of mental evaluations, this Court continued the 9/1/17 competency hearing and ordered that the records be produced for an expedited amended competency evaluation to be completed no later than October 25, 2017. DE 33. On October 26, 2017 the Government advised the Court that the records had not been received in time for the evaluation to be completed so the competency hearing was continued until 11/13/17. DE 40.

         At the beginning of the continued competency hearing on 11/13/17, the Government advised the Court that Dr. Feldman had gone on leave on 10/19/17 for reasons unknown to the AUSA and that the Government was asking for an additional amount of time for a different forensic psychologist to conduct a new evaluation of the Defendant. After hearing additional testimony from Dr. Fichera, this Court, and the parties, agreed that there was sufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the competency of the Defendant.

         Dr. Frichera testified on 11/13/17 that he had reviewed the extensive medical records evaluating the Defendant for many years. There were no records of serious mental impairments, with the possible exception of an evaluation nearly two decades years ago that concluded that the Defendant at that time was suffering from an unspecified psychosis. DE 41-2. After conducting his additional review Dr. Fichera affirmed his original evaluation of the Defendant. Id. to Indiana v. Edwards, 128 S.Ct. 2379 (2008), an evaluation to determine if the Defendant suffers from a severe mental illness to the point where he is not competent to conduct trial proceedings by himself was also ordered. (DE 12).

         DISCUSSION

         1) Competency to stand trial:

         The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the Government from prosecuting defendants who are incompetent. See U.S. Const. Amend. V; Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378 (1966). The Eleventh Circuit has stated that “[f]or a defendant to be competent to stand trial, he must have ‘sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding . . . [and] ha[ve] a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'” United States v. Rahim, 431 F.3d 753, 760 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Medina v. Singletary, 59 F.3d 1095, 1106 (11th Cir. 1995). See also United States v. Giron-Reyes, 234 F.3d 78, 80 (1st Cir. 2000) (providing that for a defendant to be found competent to stand trial or plead guilty, a defendant must be able to understand the proceedings against him and have sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding) (citing Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389, 398 (1993); and, Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960)).

         The relevant statute provides in part,

(d) Determination and disposition.--If, after the hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense, ...

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