final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.
from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit,
Okeechobee County; Dan L. Vaughn, Judge; L.T. Case No.
Haughwout, Public Defender, and Nancy Jack, Assistant Public
Defender, West Palm Beach, for appellant.
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, and Mitchell A.
Egber, Assistant Attorney General, West Palm Beach, for
Augustus Rose appeals the denial of his motion to withdraw
his plea and vacate his sentence, arguing that the trial
court fundamentally erred in accepting his plea of nolo
contendere without first holding a hearing to determine his
competency. We agree and reverse and remand for further
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
was charged with burglary of a dwelling with assault or
battery while armed, kidnapping with a weapon or firearm,
abuse of a disabled adult, and possession of a firearm by a
convicted felon. His defense counsel filed a motion to
examine Appellant "on the issue of competence to
proceed, " with an assertion that the motion was made
"in good faith and on reasonable ground to believe that
[Appellant] is incompetent to proceed." The trial court
granted the motion.
one year later, Appellant entered a "no contest"
plea to all charges. On his Felony Plea Form, it was noted
that Appellant was prescribed medication for "mental
health." His counsel further informed the court that
Appellant had been treated in the past for mental illness
and, after Appellant's arrest, a psychological
examination had been performed. However, there was no
discussion with respect to the details of this evaluation at
either the change of plea or sentencing hearings. When
questioned as to whether Appellant had been "deemed
competent and not insane at the time of the offense, "
Appellant responded "[t]hat's what they said."
sentencing hearing, more details regarding Appellant's
mental health history were presented to the trial court. This
was the first opportunity for the judge to review the mental
competency examination report. In arguing for a bottom of the
guidelines sentence, defense counsel made note that Appellant
had been "Baker-acted"; received in-patient mental
health treatment; continues to be prescribed medication; and,
continues to have mental health issues. The trial court made
no further inquiries regarding Appellant's present mental
fitness at either the change of plea or sentencing hearing.
Appellant was sentenced to forty years in prison.
Appellant filed a motion pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal
Procedure 3.170(f) to withdraw his plea. In asserting that
Appellant's agreement to enter the no contest plea was
involuntary, the motion notes the trial court had been
informed of Appellant's "mental health issues"
and prior "mental health commitment." It further
alleged that, at the time Appellant entered the plea
agreement, he was taking four different medications, each of
which "have either a sedative, neurological or
psychological effect on a person." A hearing was then
held on Appellant's motion. There, the court denied the
motion and rejected Appellant's claims that he was
impaired at the time he entered his plea ("There is no
showing that any of this medication he claims he was taking
affected his ability to understand the proceedings.").
Appellant's appeal follows, with the allegation that the
trial court reversibly erred when it did not conduct a
competency hearing and enter a written order regarding
competency before accepting Appellant's change of plea.
procedure for determining a defendant's competency is
governed by Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.210 through
3.215. We review the court's judgment and its compliance
with these rules de novo." Hawks v.
State, 226 So.3d 892, 893 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017).
Once a trial court has reasonable grounds to believe the
defendant is incompetent and orders an examination, it
must hold a hearing, and it must enter a
written order on the issue. See Fla. R. Crim. P.
3.210(b), 3.212(b). ...