Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

United States v. Garcia

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

November 10, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JUAN CARLOS ALFARO GARCIA

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          MAC R. MCCOY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are: Defendant's Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency and Memorandum of Law, filed on February 7, 2019 (Doc. 63); the Government's Response to Defendant's Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency, filed on February 21, 2019 (Doc. 68); a Forensic Evaluation from Defendant's expert, Dr. Paul S. Kling, dated February 5, 2019 (Doc. 66); and a Forensic Report from the court-appointed evaluator, Dr. Rodolfo A. Buigas, dated May 21, 2019 (Doc. 92). For the reasons below, the Undersigned respectfully recommends that Defendant be found competent to proceed to trial.

         RELEVANT PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On January 28, 2019, Dr. Paul S. Kling, a psychologist, evaluated Defendant Juan Carlos Alfaro Garcia. (Doc. 66 at 1). Based upon that evaluation, Dr. Kling opined in a written forensic evaluation report dated February 5, 2019 that Defendant lacks competency to proceed in this case. (Id. at 4). Defendant filed the instant Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency on February 7, 2019. (Doc. 63). In response, the Government took the position that “[d]ue to the competency concerns raised by defense counsel, the Court should commit the [D]efendant to the custody of the Attorney General which would enable the [D]efendant to be observed over the course of a thirty day evaluation period” as provided by 18 U.S.C. § 4247. (Doc. 68 at 3).

         On February 22, 2019, the presiding United States District Judge granted the Government's request for Defendant to be evaluated under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(b) and the provisions of § 4247(b) and (c). (Doc. 69 at 2). The District Judge reserved ruling on Defendant's Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency (Doc. 63) until after the court-ordered evaluation could be completed. (See Doc. 69 at 3). At the request of the Warden of the facility where Defendant was committed for the evaluation, the Court extended the evaluation period to April 10, 2019. (See Docs. 77-78).

         On May 7, 2019, the presiding District Judge entered an Order directing the Government to provide a status update regarding the competency evaluation and report because no report had been filed. (Doc. 84 at 1). On May 9, 2019, the Government filed a Notice of Status of Defendant's Competency Evaluation Report, in which the Government requested a further extension for the evaluator to complete his report and file it with the Court. (Doc. 87 at 3). On May 10, 2019, the Court ordered the report to be filed under seal on or before May 24, 2019. (Doc. 88).

         The report, dated May 21, 2019, was ultimately filed on May 22, 2019. (Doc. 92). In the report, Dr. Rodolfo A. Buigas, a forensic psychologist, states that Defendant was evaluated as requested by this Court's Order from March to April 2019. (Id. at 1). Dr. Buigas opined that Defendant “appears to have sufficient understanding of the legal process and a capacity to assist in his own defense if motivated to do so. Hence, the [D]efendant's degree of trial competency is satisfactory, and it is recommended that [Defendant] be found Competent to Stand Trial.” (Id. at 9). The same day Dr. Buigas' report was filed with the Court, the presiding District Judge referred Defendant's Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency (Doc. 63) to the Undersigned for a competency hearing and for issuance of a report and recommendation.[1] The Undersigned immediately noticed the case for a status hearing on June 4, 2019. (Doc. 93).

         The status hearing before the Undersigned took place, as noticed, on June 4. (Doc. 94). At the hearing, Defendant's counsel orally requested that the Government produce certain documents from the Bureau of Prisons. (Id.). In response, the Government orally requested time to confer with the Bureau of Prisons regarding the requested production and to produce any documents. (Id.; see also Doc. 95). The Undersigned orally granted the Government's request and noticed the competency hearing to occur on June 26, 2019 to allow sufficient time for the document production issues to be resolved. (See Doc. 96). On June 12, 2019, the Government filed a Motion for Order to Produce, asking the Undersigned to enter an order directing that the Bureau of Prisons - Federal Detention Center, Miami produce certain documents, reports, and records referenced in Dr. Buigas' report dated May 21, 2019. (Doc. 101 at 1). The next day, the Undersigned granted the Government's motion and ordered the specified documents to be produced. (Doc. 102). On June 24, 2019, Defendant's counsel filed a document entitled a Discovery Receipt in which he acknowledged receipt of the documents the Undersigned ordered to be produced. (Doc. 106).

         A competency hearing was held on June 26, 2019. (Doc. 109). Defendant was present at the hearing. (Id.). Defendant does not speak English; thus, a court-certified interpreter was provided. (Id.). Dr. Kling and Dr. Buigas testified at the hearing. (Id.). Additionally, counsel presented oral argument following the conclusion of witness testimony. (Id.).[2] This matter is ripe for consideration.

         Based on the testimony of the experts at the hearing and the information contained in the experts' reports, the Undersigned finds and recommends that Defendant is competent and that the case should proceed to trial.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The federal competency standard is set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 4241, which provides:

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, the court shall commit the defendant to the custody of the Attorney General.

18 U.S.C. § 4241(d). The standard to determine mental competency to stand trial “is whether the defendant ha[s] ‘sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' and whether he ha[s] ‘a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'” United States v. Nickels, 324 F.3d 1250, 1252 (11th Cir. 2003) (citing United States v. Cruz, 805 F.2d 1464, 1479 (11th Cir. 1986), which in turn quotes Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960)). To be mentally incompetent to stand trial, therefore, Defendant must suffer from a mental disease or defect such that he is unable (1) to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or (2) to assist properly in his defense. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d).

         In determining whether Defendant has a mental disease or defect such that he is unable to assist properly in his defense, the competency statute is silent as to which party bears the burden of proof. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d). The Eleventh Circuit, however, has stated that “‘a petitioner raising a substantive claim of incompetency is entitled to no presumption of incompetency and must demonstrate his or her incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence.'” United States v. Bradley, 644 F.3d 1213, 1268 (11th Cir. 2011) (citing Medina v. Singletary, 59 F.3d 1095, 1106 (11th Cir. 1995)). Additionally, the Supreme Court has stated, albeit in dicta, that the burden of establishing incompetence rests with the defendant. United States v. Izquierdo, 448 F.3d 1269, 1277-78 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 362 (1996) for the proposition that “Congress has directed that the accused in a federal prosecution must prove incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence”). Moreover, decisions by this Court have also concluded that the moving party bears the burden of proving a defendant's incompetency. See, e.g., United States v. Raiola, No. 2:15-cr-106-FtM-38MRM, 2017 WL 218830, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 19, 2017) (Chappell, J.); United States v. FNU LNU, No. 6:15-cr-3-Orl-22TBS, 6:10-cr-238-Orl-22TBS, 2016 WL 158769, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 14, 2016) (Conway, J.). Thus, the burden of proving incompetence rests with Defendant as the moving party such that Defendant must prove his incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d).

         EXPERT REPORTS AND TESTIMONY

         A. DR. PAUL S. KLING

         1. Forensic Evaluation Report Dated February 5, 2019 (Doc. 66)

         According to his written report, Dr. Kling evaluated Plaintiff in a single meeting on January 28, 2019 at the Charlotte County jail in Punta Gorda, Florida. (Doc. 66 at 1). Dr. Kling's evaluation was done by means of a clinical interview and administration of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. (Id.). Dr. Kling also reviewed “a legal document provided by [Defendant's] attorney.” (Id.).[3] Dr. Kling used the services of an interpreter during the evaluation because Defendant does not speak English. (Id.). Defendant's attorney was present in the room, but “did not speak or participate in the process unless directly questioned by the interviewer.” (Id.). Dr. Kling explained to Defendant the limits of confidentiality in the evaluation and Defendant signed “appropriate consent and release forms.” (Id.).

         According to Dr. Kling's report, “[w]hen asked what he had been charged with, [Defendant] said that he had been charged with entering the country illegally. When asked what his sentence or penalty might be if found guilty, he said that he did not know.” (Id. at 2). Defendant was able to identify his attorney as “Brian.” (Id.). When questioned about his attorney's job in the case, Defendant stated that his attorney “is working on this case.” (Id.). When asked to explain the role of his attorney further, Defendant stated “to work on my case.” (Id.). When asked about other things his attorney might do, Defendant responded “to try to fix my case.” (Id.). When asked what a federal prosecutor does, Defendant responded that he did not know. (Id.).

         Also according to the report, “[w]hen asked what a judge does in court, [Defendant] said ‘to do his job as a judge'” but was unable to provide any additional information. (Id.). When asked “whose side the judge is supposed to be on in court, [Defendant] said that the judge is on the side of the federal attorney.” (Id.). Defendant stated that he did not know what a jury is or what a plea bargain is. (Id.). Dr. Kling asked Defendant's attorney if he had discussed a plea bargain with Defendant. (Id.). According to Dr. Kling's report, Defendant's attorney “replied that he had spent at least two hour explaining the nature of a plea bargain to [Defendant] and that, in fact, they had submitted a plea bargain with the prosecutor although it was later withdrawn.” (Id.). As stated in the report, Defendant's attorney also “said that, at this point, any other client he has worked with would have a very good understanding of the nature of a plea bargain.” (Id.).

         Moreover, Dr. Kling's report states that “[w]hen asked what his defense might be in court, [Defendant] replied ‘about my family.'” (Id.). When asked to explain further, Defendant “replied ‘because of my children and wife.' He said that this had a very strong effect on him.” (Id.). Defendant stated that he did not know what the word “evidence” means in court or what “a bailiff” does in court. (Id.).

         According to the report, Defendant told Dr. Kling that he was born in Mexico and “had come to the United States in either 1993 or 1998, but could not remember which.” (Id.). Defendant denied ever being abused during his childhood. (Id.). Although he initially denied suffering any serious medical illnesses or injuries, he later “said that he suffers from asthma and eye problems.” (Id.). Regarding his education, Defendant “said that he thinks he completed the first grade but was not sure. He added that he is unable to read or write.” (Id.). Regarding work history, Defendant “said that he has worked as a roofer and has done well at that job” and “denied ever having been on disability.” (Id.). Defendant also denied any history of mental health problems, diagnoses, or treatment. (Id.). Defendant further denied every abusing alcohol or drugs. (Id. at 3). The report states that “[w]hen asked if he ever saw things or heard things that were not there, [Defendant] replied ‘I miss my family.' He then reiterated that he is very concerned about being away from his family, children, and wife.” (Id.).

         Dr. Kling's report describes Defendant during the evaluation as follows:

[Defendant] was cooperative. His ability to interact with the interviewer was limited. His affect was flat. [Defendant] became tearful when mentioning his family and needed several minutes to compose himself. There were no indication of paranoid or delusional though content. No. other unusual behaviors were observed. His appearance was unremarkable.

(Id.).

         Concerning the consent and release forms Dr. Kling requested from Defendant, the report states:

At the beginning of the interview, I requested [Defendant] to read and sign consent and release forms. One form was read to him by the interpreter and then [Defendant] simply turned to his attorney and asked if he should sign it. With my consent to respond, his attorney replied that he would suggest signing the document. The second document was signed without being read to [Defendant] and was based simply on his acceptance of his attorney's opinion that it would be important to sign it.

(Id.).

         With regard to testing, Dr. Kling explains in his report:

I attempted to assess Mr. Garcia's intelligence by administering the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence. Mr. Garcia was unable to answer more than three or four of the questions on the test and the testing was then discontinued. If it were to be formally scored, it would probably generate a verbal IQ somewhere between 40 and 50.

(Id.). The report states that Dr. Kling's diagnostic impressions are:

AXIS I: Deferred
ASIS [sic] II: Probable intellectual disability AXIS III: Unknown

(Id.).

         Dr. Kling opines in his report that Defendant “has a limited understanding of the charges against him. He was able to explain that he had been charged with illegal entry into the country, but was unable to provide any additional information or details.” (Id. at 3-4). Dr. Kling further opines that Defendant “does not have the ability to appreciate the range and nature of possible penalties which may be imposed. He appeared to have no idea whatsoever what his sentence or penalty might be if found guilty.” (Id. at 4). Dr. Kling also opines that Defendant “does not have the ability to understand the adversarial nature of the legal process.” (Id.). Dr. Kling states that Defendant “did not understand the role of a judge, a jury, a prosecutor, or the nature of a plea bargain.” (Id.). Dr. Kling also states that Defendant “had a very limited understanding of the role of his attorney. He initially stated that the job is [sic] attorney was to work on his case, but later added that the job of his attorney is to fix his case. However, he was unable to describe what that meant exactly.” (Id.).

         Furthermore, Dr. Kling opines in his report that Defendant “does not have the ability to provide pertinent information regarding his case to his attorney.” (Id.). Dr. Kling explains that Defendant “was unable to do so during this evaluation and the partial intelligence testing and interview indicated a very limited capacity for verbal or abstract thinking.” (Id.). Dr. Kling also opines that Defendant “does not have the ability to testify relevantly on his own behalf or challenge prosecution witnesses for the reasons described above.” (Id.). Dr. Kling also opines that Defendant “has the ability to manifest superficially appropriate behavior in court. However, he will be unable to follow the proceedings of the court or participate in his own defense.” (Id.).

         On the ultimate question of competency, Dr. Kling's report states his opinion as follows:

It is my opinion that [Defendant] is not competent to proceed. It is my opinion that he does not possess sufficient present mental ability to understand his case from a factual and rational perspective or to consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of understanding. It is my opinion that [Defendant] is incompetent due to an intellectual disability and lack of even a basic education.

(Id.).

         Regarding treatment, Dr. Kling's report states:

No treatment recommendations are made at this time. Intellectual disability is considered to be a permanent condition and not amenable to psychological or psychiatric treatment. It is my opinion, with a reasonable degree of psychological probability, that the least restrictive appropriate placement for [Defendant] would be with his family, who can provide him with the support that he needs.

(Id. at 5).

         2. Testimony

         Dr. Kling testified at the June 26, 2019 competency hearing. (Doc. 117 at 9-43).

         a. Direct Examination

         The defense proffered Dr. Kling as an expert in the field of psychology without objection from the Government, and the Undersigned accepted Dr. Kling as an expert in the field of psychology. (Id. at 10-11).

         Dr. Kling testified on direct examination consistent with the matters and findings set forth in his written report. (Id. at 9-27). Dr. Kling further explained that he could not have examined Defendant without the assistance of an interpreter. (Id. at 11). He also opined that Defendant “didn't really appear to understand” the content of the consent and release forms Dr. Kling asked Defendant to sign before the evaluation. (Id.). However, Dr. Kling testified that Defendant understood that Dr. Kling would examine Defendant to determine whether Defendant is mentally fit to stand trial in this matter. (Id.).

         Dr. Kling also testified that he attempted to administer the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence II to Defendant - an IQ test - but that Dr. Kling was unable to administer the test fully beyond the first part, which was a vocabulary test, because “it became apparent that [Defendant] was not able to complete the test.” (Id. at 14). Dr. Kling explained that the portion of the test he attempted to administer is designed to measure verbal intelligence. (Id. at 15). He also explained that “[v]ocabulary, of course, correlates most highly with full-scale IQ. That is the single test if you had to pick one test to approximate someone's IQ the vocabulary test would be the most useful.” (Id.). Based on Defendant's performance on this test, Dr. Kling estimated Defendant's IQ to be somewhere around 40 or 50. (Id.). Dr. Kling explained that “[s]omeone with an IQ of 40 or 50 or somewhere in that range would probably be at the bottom one-tenth or two-tenths of one percent of the general population.” (Id. at 16). According to Dr. Kling, Defendant's performance on the test “would place him in the bottom . . . two-tenths of one percent of the general population of the United States.” (Id.).

         Dr. Kling also testified that Defendant's answers to questions were brief and most of them were “I don't know.” (Id.). Dr. Kling also characterized Defendant's demeanor as “flat” and his range of emotions “was very limited.” (Id. at 16-17). Defendant was cooperative and he attempted to respond to questions, but “[h]is ability to interact with [Dr. Kling] was very limited. That is, he just answered questions and didn't show any additional ability to relate to [Dr. Kling].” (Id. at 17). Dr. Kling testified that Defendant “did not exhibit a normal range of emotions that we might expect from the average person.” (Id.).

         Regarding a probable diagnosis, Dr. Kling explained that he “did not determine a psychological or psychiatric diagnosis as in terms of mental illness.” (Id.). Instead, Dr. Kling “indicated [Defendant] probably suffered from an intellectual disability based on his performance at the evaluation.” (Id.). When asked what practical effect a probable IQ disability would have on a person's ability in verbal comprehension, Dr. Kling testified that “[i]t would make him - make it more difficult. He would have a hard time understanding things. He would most likely - and, again, based on the limited amount of testing that was done, he probably had difficulty with abstract reasoning, ability to - well, ability to understand what was happening.” (Id. at 17-18).

         When asked whether Defendant fully comprehends the charges that are pending against him, Dr. Kling testified “[o]nly in a very limited sense. . . . [H]e's been told that [sic] entering the country illegally. So he understands that at least at a superficial level. However, he did not know what his sentence or penalty might be if he were found guilty. So I would say that he has a limited understanding of the charges against him.” (Id. at 18).

         When asked for his opinion as to whether Defendant understands the adversarial nature of the criminal proceedings pending against him, Dr. Kling testified, “I would say not or, again, very limited.” (Id. at 18-19). Dr. Kling explained, “[f]or example, when he's asked what a judge does in court, he said he does his job as a judge. And he - when I asked him to elaborate or explain further, he was not able to do so. When I asked whose side the judge is supposed to be on in court, he said that the judge is on the side of the federal attorney which is incorrect. When asked what a plea bargain is, he said that he did not know.” (Id. at 19). Dr. Kling added that Defendant said he did not know what a plea bargain is even though counsel discussed that subject with Defendant for two hours and actually went through the procedures of entering a plea bargain. (Id.). Dr. Kling testified that these things indicated that Defendant “certainly does not understand some of the critical items necessary to be considered competent.” (Id.).

         As to whether Defendant is capable of providing relevant and pertinent information to his attorney to assist in his own defense, Dr. Kling testified that Defendant's ability is “very limited.” Dr. Kling stated that Defendant could “probably answer fairly concrete question” but that Defendant is “not necessarily a reliable historian.” (Id. at 20). Dr. Kling testified that it “would be unlikely” that Defendant would be capable of providing relevant and responsive testimony on his own behalf. (Id.). As to whether Defendant understand the defenses that may be available to him, Dr. Kling testified “I don't think he does have much understating of his legal options. [Defendant] I believe did not complete first grade, cannot read or write English or Spanish, and his ability to understand such things would be limited.” (Id.). Although Dr. Kling testified that Defendant is willing to cooperate with his lawyer, Dr. Kling opined that it “would seem very unlikely” that Defendant is capable of assisting in matters such as planning legal strategy in his own defense. (Id. at 20-21).

         When asked whether Defendant is capable of following simple instructions and advise, Dr. Kling opined that Defendant is capable and “his thinking I believe is fairly concrete so that if things were explained to him carefully and maybe repeatedly I think he would be able to understand them.” (Id. at 25). When asked whether Defendant is able to make informed decisions about his case after having the matter explained in layman's terms by his lawyer, Dr. Kling opined that Defendant is not able to do so. (Id.). When asked whether Defendant is able to make an informed choice between two well-explained alternatives such as entering a plea deal or proceeding to trial, Dr. Kling responded “I would be doubtful. I would say that, again, depending on how carefully everything was explained to him and how clear and how many times it was explained to him he might be able to make such a decision. But, again, I believe he has a limited capacity to make that kind of decision.” (Id. at 25-26).

         When asked whether Defendant would be able to follow and understand discussions or testimony of other witnesses such that he could point out errors, falsehoods or inconsistencies in a courtroom setting, Dr. Kling responded “again, in a limited way. I don't think he would really be able to follow too carefully or advise his attorney, for example, of something that he thought was incorrect.” (Id. at 26). When asked whether Defendant is capable to testify competently on his own behalf in this matter, Dr. Kling stated “I believe he can answer questions. (Id.). I believe he will answer them - you know, attempt to answer them. I ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.