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Parker v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

May 23, 2019


          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/27/2016








         ¶1. Shannon Craig Parker appeals his aggravated-assault conviction and enhanced sentence. We assigned his appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. However, the appellate court was divided on one of the three issues Parker raised-whether the trial judge abused his discretion in denying Parker's request for a mental evaluation to pursue a possible insanity defense. We granted Parker's petition for writ of certiorari to review this issue.

         ¶2. After review, we hold the trial judge did not abuse his discretion when he denied Parker's pro se motion for a mental evaluation. Although given the opportunity to do so, Parker presented no concrete reason establishing the need for a mental evaluation to assist in the pursuit of a viable insanity defense. Instead, Parker offered only unsupported assertions of diminished capacity-a defense not recognized by Mississippi law. We thus affirm.

         Background Facts and Procedural History

         I. Shooting

         ¶3. Eric and Edna Burkett were standing outside their home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, when a white pickup truck stopped in front of them. The driver got out, and the Burketts asked if he needed help. The man mumbled something, grabbed a rifle, and shot Eric, wounding him. The man also fired shots at Edna but missed. Soon after, the police found the white truck in a nearby ditch. Its tires were still spinning. The driver, later identified as Parker, was in the truck. He was arrested and later confirmed by the Burketts as the man who attacked them.

         ¶4. Parker appeared to be under the influence. So police waited until the next day to interview him.[1] Parker, through a written statement, told police "I don't no [sic] victim. Don't even no [sic] victim. All I remember is sitting spinning." At the interviewing officer's recommendation, Parker underwent a mental evaluation. The evaluation was performed by a licensed professional counselor. Parker told the counselor that he had previously been treated for anxiety and depression. The counselor concluded that Parker "was verbal and responsive" and that "[h]is thought processes were rational."

         II. Rejected Plea

         ¶5. Although indicted on two counts of assault, the State elected to proceed only on the aggravated assault against Eric, with a five-year sentencing enhancement for using a firearm. See Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(2)(a) (Rev. 2014) (aggravated assault); Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-37(1) (Rev. 2014) (firearm enhancement). A week before the scheduled trial, Parker planned to plead guilty. But at the plea hearing, Parker claimed he had no recollection of the crime. And he maintained he could not verify the State's recitation of the facts. Under the circumstances, the trial judge determined he could not accept Parker's plea. At that point, the judge turned to pretrial matters.

         ¶6. One of these matters was defense counsel's prior indication that she did not intend to call an expert. At this point, Parker's counsel clarified that "this is where Mr. Parker and I disagree on the strategies of this trial." While Parker wanted a mental evaluation, counsel advised him he did not fall within "the parameters that the law requires in order to request a mental evaluation." Despite the time limit to make such a request having already passed, the trial judge permitted Parker to file a motion for a mental evaluation pro se. The judge also set the matter for a hearing the following Monday. The judge advised Parker that he may need to bring witnesses.

         III. Motion for Mental Evaluation

         ¶7. The hearing began with Parker's counsel confirming she and her co-counsel did not believe they could, as a matter of professional ethics, present Parker's motion. Specifically, counsel stated that, "I don't believe under M'Naghten that I would be able to present that motion." Parker then argued his motion pro se. He first attempted to rely on what he had written in his unsworn motion. The motion cited what the Burketts and arresting officers had allegedly said about this behavior the night he shot Eric. But the trial judge instructed Parker that he could not cite what other people allegedly said outside the courtroom as evidence. The trial judge then asked a series of probing questions about Parker's mental-health and prescription-drug history. Parker recollected he had suffered from anxiety and depression and once attempted suicide. At the end of the hearing, the trial judge concluded:

Basically based on what the [trial] Court has to look at in terms of the treatment for anxiety and depression and the unfortunate event with attempting to commit suicide one time, there's nothing in anything, that information or the demeanor I've seen, the motions that have been filed, the court file itself, my interactions with Mr. Parker to lead me to believe that there's any rational basis for appointing a psychiatrist or psychologist to examine him for the purpose of determining either his competency or sanity.

         ¶8. The case proceeded to trial three days later. The jury found Parker guilty of aggravated assault and using a firearm during the commission of his crime. The judge sentenced Parker to twenty years for the assault conviction, with an additional five years for the firearm enhancement.

         IV. Appeal

         ¶9. This Court assigned Parker's appeal to the Court of Appeals, which affirmed. Parker presented three issues on appeal: (1) the trial judge erred in allowing the State's firearm expert to testify; (2) the trial judge abused his discretion in denying Parker's motion for a mental evaluation; and (3) the firearm enhancement violated the constitutional prohibition against double jeopardy. While the appellate court unanimously agreed the first and third issues presented no reversible error, the court was equally divided on the second issue. Based on this split, we granted Parker's petition for certiorari review. Although Parker reasserted all three appellate issues in his petition, we limit our review to the issue of Parker's request for a mental evaluation. See Guice v. State, 952 So.2d 129, 133 (Miss. 2007) (recognizing this Court's "unquestionabl[e]" authority to limit the question on certiorari review).


         I. Competency versus Insanity

         ¶10. In his petition, Parker echoes the criticism made in the dissenting Court of Appeals opinion that "the trial court was focused on Parker's ability to stand trial rather than his sanity at the time of the incident." Parker v. State, No. 2016-KA-01502-COA, 2018 WL 1602585, at *9 (Miss. Ct. App. Apr. 3, 2018) (Tindell, J., dissenting). The dissent to this opinion lodges the same complaint.

         ¶11. We recognize, without question, that competency and sanity are two distinct concepts. Sanders v. State, 9 So.3d 1132, 1137 (Miss. 2009). Competency to stand trial is measured at the time of trial. And its standard is "whether the defendant has 'sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' and 'has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'" Martin v. State, 871 So.2d 693, 698 (Miss. 2004) (quoting Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960)). By contrast, insanity-or, more precisely, a defendant's affirmative defense of not guilty by reason of insanity-is measured at the time of the criminal offense. And its standard is the "M'Naghten rule." Davis v. State, 551 So.2d 165, 173 (Miss. 1989). Under this rule:

To establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that at the time of committing of the act the accused was laboring under such defect of reason from disease of the mind as (1) not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or (2) if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.

Id. (citing Hunter v. State, 489 So.2d 1086, 1090 (Miss. 1986); Laney v. State, 486 So.2d 1242, 1245 (Miss. 1986)).

         ¶12. First, we point out that just because Parker advanced his motion for mental evaluation on his claim that he may have been legally insane when he shot Eric does not put the trial court in error for also making an on-the-record ruling on Parker's competency. In fact, then-applicable Uniform Rule of Circuit and County Court Practice 9.06 mandated the trial judge sua sponte order a mental evaluation and conduct a competency hearing if the judge had "reasonable ground to believe that [Parker was] incompetent to stand trial[.]"[2] Parker's actions leading up to the motion hearing at least raised the specter of his potential inability to consult with his court-appointed attorneys or understand the proceedings against him.[3] So we certainly do not fault the trial court for using the hearing to ensure no reasonable ground existed to believe Parker was incompetent to stand trial and face a jury seventy-two hours later.

         ¶13. Further, that the court assessed Parker's competency does not mean it failed to consider his potential insanity defense as a basis for granting a mental evaluation. The record shows the court permitted Parker to file his pro se motion out of time, [4] despite Parker's counsel informing the court she could not ethically file a motion for mental evaluation because she did not believe Parker met the conditions to receive one. The court was in fact cautious and set the motion for a pretrial hearing, telling Parker the court "intend[ed] to take testimony" and advising him he may have to call witnesses in support.

         ¶14. At the hearing, when Parker directed the court's attention to his claim that he was insane at the time of the crime, the court patiently responded, "All right, well, I'm here, and I'll sit here as long as we need to sit here to let you offer me proof that you have a mental problem or disease that would-that had some effect on why you don't remember what happened." Still, Parker failed to produce any proof. And the trial judge again reassured him, "I'll let you go and say whatever you wanted to say, and then I'm going to go through this and do what I want to do, and you be thinking, if there's any other proof you want me to consider, any medical records, any witnesses, anything of that nature, I'll sit here . . . till [five o'clock]. If we need to reconvene in the morning, we'll do that." (Emphasis added.) Despite the opportunity, guidance, and reassurance by the trial court, Parker made no attempt to call any witness. Nor did he attempt to submit any records.

         ¶15. After Parker failed to present any proof, the trial judge expressly concluded:

[T]here's nothing in anything, that information or the demeanor I've seen, the motions that have been filed, the court file itself, my interactions with Mr. Parker to lead me to believe that there's any rational basis for appointing a psychiatrist or psychologist to examine him for the purpose of determining either his competency or sanity."

         (Emphasis added.) Our review of the record demonstrates the trial judge thoroughly considered Parker's request for a mental evaluation to assist a potential insanity defense.

         II. Unsubstantiated Assertions

         ¶16. As to the merits of this request, we agree with the Court of Appeals plurality that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ...

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