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United States v. Hill

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

December 17, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
JAMES GORDON HILL

          ORDER

          MONTE C. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on the issue of Defendant's competency to proceed with the final revocation proceedings. The Court has considered the parties' submissions to date as well as the testimony and arguments from the hearings. For the reasons set forth below and as stated at the December 5, 2019 hearing, the Court concludes that Defendant is competent to participate in all Court proceedings.

         I. Background

         On October 11, 2007, a single-count Indictment was returned in open Court, charging Defendant with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) and 924(e). (Doc. 1.) After pleading guilty, in April 2008, Defendant was sentenced to 188 months of imprisonment and 60 months of supervised release. (See Docs. 33, 34.) On August 4, 2016, the Court granted Defendant's Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence, vacated his imprisonment sentence, and sentenced him to time-served plus 14 days, to be released from the Bureau of Prisons on August 18, 2016, followed by a term of 36 months' supervised release. (Doc. 55.)

         On July 7, 2017, the Court directed the issuance of a warrant for Defendant's arrest for violating the conditions of his supervision. (Doc. 57.) A Superseding Petition for Warrant or Summons for Offender Under Supervised Release was entered on March 12, 2019. (Doc. 61.) On September 27, 2019, Defendant was arrested for violating the conditions of his supervised release under the Superseding Petition. (See Doc. 76.)

         Before proceeding with the initial appearance on October 17, 2019, defense counsel orally moved, without objection by the Government, for a competency evaluation of Defendant. (Docs. 64, 66.) The initial appearance was held in abeyance and, on October 21, 2019, the Court appointed Jason A. Demery, Ph.D., an expert in the field of psychology, to conduct a competency evaluation of Defendant on November 4, 2019 and to issue a written report with his findings prior to the competency hearing scheduled for November 19, 2019. (Docs. 64, 68.)

         On November 4, 2019, Dr. Demery attempted to evaluate Defendant at the Baker County Jail in Macclenny, Florida. (Doc. 77-1 at 1.) Defendant's attorney, Waffa Hanania, was also present. (Id.) Dr. Demery reviewed discovery, the Court's Order for competency evaluation, Baker County Jail Medical Records, and attempted to conduct a face-to-face interview with Defendant. (Id.)

         On November 15, 2019, Dr. Demery issued a written report, concluding, with a reasonable degree of psychological certainty, that Defendant “did not cooperate with the evaluation.” (Id.) Dr. Demery explained:

Mr. Hill responded with prolonged response latencies to basic questions such as, “What is your name?” He said he did not know his date or place of birth. He said he recalled living in Florida before he was incarcerated but that he did not recall [in] what city. He said he knew neither his current charge nor the length of any potential sentence.
Mr. Hill said, “I don't know” to questions about the role of the judge, jury, prosecutor, or defense attorney. He said he did not know his defense attorney and that he did not know if he had ever met with her despite her sitting next to him during the evaluation.
Mr. Hill said he did not know the meaning of a plea of guilty or not guilty and that he did not know what it meant if a jury found him not guilty.
Mr. Hill reported that he takes prescribed medications but that he did not know why they were prescribed.
When asked about how his mood had been lately, Mr. Hill said, “I don't know.” He also did not know how much sleep he had gotten the night before the evaluation. He said he did not know how long he had been at the Baker County Jail. He trembled and appeared tense with a grimaced look on his face, saying, “I don't understand.” An attempt was made to administer the Inventory of Legal Knowledge (ILK), an objective measure of malingered adjudicative incompetency, but he simply responded with “I don't know” or “I don't understand the question” when this examiner asked test questions in accordance with the standardized test instructions. Mr. Hill was informed that he could guess “true” or “false” to simple questions but instead simply responded with “I don't know” and he never attempted to guess the answers to easy questions.

(Doc. 77-1 at 2 (emphasis added); see also Dec. 5, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 12-13, 24 (“I asked him if he knew who his defense counsel was and he said no, despite you sitting next to him. . . . But what - what struck me is the fact he didn't know if he had ever met with his defense counsel and said he didn't know who she was.”).)

         Dr. Demery then summarized medical records from October 8th, 9th, 10th, 22nd, 25th, and 31st, and from November 3rd and 4th of 2019. (Doc. 77-1 at 2-3; Dec. 5, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 21-22.) These records showed that Defendant had a history of depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, as well as an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization in Ocala, Florida. (Doc. 77-1 at 2; Dec. 5, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 22.) There were also reports of paranoia, racing thoughts, depression, anxiety, and auditory hallucinations. (Doc. 77-1 at 2; Dec. 5, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 23.) The records indicated that Defendant had been prescribed Zyprexa (an antipsychotic medication), Vistaril, Trazadone, and Venlafaxine. (Doc. 77-1 at 2; Dec. 5, 2019 Hr'g Tr. 21-22.) On October 22, 2019, Defendant reported reduction in his symptoms and, as of October 25, 2019, he had no complaints. (Doc. 77-1 at 3.)

         Dr. Demery concluded his report as follows:

Overall, Mr. Hill appears to have a history of mental illness for which he is prescribed three medications, including mood stabilizing and antipsychotic medication[s]. Medical records indicate that he was “Alert and oriented, responsive, and with no complaints” on 11/3/19 and 11/4/19. It is my opinion that Mr. Hill should be able to meaningfully participate in an examination of his ...

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