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. Sharp

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi

September 26, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
DAN V. SHARP DEFENDANT

          OPINION

         The Court held a mental competency hearing in this matter on September 19, 2019, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241, in order to determine if the Defendant is competent to stand trial. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court heard from the parties regarding three pending motions filed by the Defendant - a motion to sever [88], a motion to exclude evidence at trial [76], and a motion for substitution of counsel [90]. Upon due consideration and as further explained herein, the Court finds that the Defendant is competent to stand trial. The Court further finds that the Defendant's motion to sever counts shall be denied, the Defendant's motion to substitute counsel shall be denied, and the Defendant's motion to exclude evidence will be adjudicated upon the filing of a forthcoming motion in limine and/or at trial.

         1. Factual Background and Competence to Stand Trial

         The Defendant has been charged in a 19-Count Superseding Indictment with unlawful possession of firearms (as a felon) and various drug possession and trafficking violations. See Superseding Indictment [65]. On April 5, 2019, the Defendant motioned the Court, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241, for a psychological evaluation to determine the Defendant's mental competency to stand trial [61]. The Court granted the motion [63] and the Defendant underwent a psychological examination at the Federal Bureau of Prison's Federal Detention Center in Seatac, Washington, to determine his competence to stand trial; the evaluating psychologist submitted a report outlining her findings on July 11, 2019 [69].' The Court then scheduled the September 19, 2019, hearing in order to adjudicate the Defendant's mental competency to stand trial [83]. At the hearing, the Court heard live testimony from the examining psychologist; the Court also has considered several filings from the parties regarding the Defendant's competency [87, 91, 97, 99, 100].

         A district court may order a competency hearing when there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may be presently suffering a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to stand trial. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). At the hearing, "[t]he court must determine 'by a preponderance of the evidence' whether 'the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is [1] unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or [2] to assist properly in his defense.[1] United States v. Porter, 907 F.3d 374, 380 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)).

         "A district court can consider several factors in evaluating competency, including, but not limited to, its own observations of the defendant's demeanor and behavior; medical testimony; and the observations of other individuals that have interacted with the defendant." United States v. Simpson, 645 F.3d 300, 306 (5th Cir. 2011). "A defendant is competent where he has 'the 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 proceeding against him.'" Porter, 907 F.3d at 380 (quoting Simpson, 645 F.3d at 306.)). The Government bears the burden of proving the defendant is mentally competent. United States v. Hutson, 821 F.2d 1015, 1018 (5th Cir. 1987).

         As for the first prong of the Court's two-part test to determine competency, i.e., whether the Defendant is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, a defendant has a factual and rational understanding of the proceedings if he "understands] his charges" and "[is] aware of the potential sentences." Porter, 907 F.3d at 382. This standard "does not require that a defendant actually have a present rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him, but only that he is capable of having a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him. United States v. Merriweather, 921 F.Supp.2d 1265, 1305-06 (N.D. Ala. 2013) (emphasis added). Courts have found that a defendant has this understanding when he knows and understands "the basic nature of the court proceedings, " "the roles of the individuals involved in the proceedings, " and "the potential benefits of plea bargaining." United States v. Edwards, No. 15-CR-00059, 2017 WL 2486366, at *2 (W.D. La. May 23, 2017), report and recommendation adopted, No. CR 15-00059, 2017 WL 2490003 (W.D. La. June 8, 2017).

         As for the second prong of the Court's test, which is of greater concern in the case sub judice and which requires the Court to determine if the Defendant is able to assist properly in his defense, a defendant's inability to cooperate with his attorney may suggest he is incompetent because he cannot consult with his attorney; the defendant's refusal to cooperate does not render him incompetent. Porter, 907 F.3d at 380. at 381. A difficult client that "possesses] the ability to communicate with and assist his attorneys" but who "chose[s] not to" is able to consult with his lawyer and is not incompetent to stand trial. Id. "The relevant legal question is not whether a defendant will 'assist properly in his defense, ' but whether 'he [is] able to do' so." United States v. Battle, 613 F.3d 258, 263 (D.C. Cir. 2010) (quoting United States v. Vachon, 869 F.2d 653, 655 (1st Cir. 1989)). Likewise, a defendant's "recalcitrant and irritable temperament" does not suggest incompetence if it is "the result of a conscious choice rather than the product of a mental defect [he] could not control." Id. If the defendant's demeanor during his competency hearing is "controlled, responsive, and appropriate, " that is evidence that the defendant can control his behavior. Id.

         Here, the psychologist's report and testimony demonstrate that, in her expert opinion, there is no evidence that indicates the Defendant suffers from a mental disorder or disease that substantially impairs his present ability to understand the nature and consequences of the court proceedings brought against him, or that substantially impair his ability to assist counsel in his defense [69-1, at p. 21 ]. More specifically, the psychologist found and testified that the Defendant possesses an "above average" ability to understand the nature and consequences of the court proceedings against him, and an "average" ability to properly assist counsel in his defense [69-1, at p. 21]. Accordingly, the psychologist found and testified that the Defendant is competent to stand trial.

         The psychologist testified that she met with the Defendant nine times for over a dozen hours in preparing her evaluation. In addition to the clinical interviews, the psychologist observed the Defendant's behavior at the facility, utilized several psychological tools and instruments to evaluate the Defendant's competence, and consulted supplemental information, including legal documents and mental health records. [69-1, at pp. 1-2]. She noted that the Defendant was cooperative and polite during his evaluation visits, has an excellent memory, and possesses an estimated intelligence quotient (IQ) of 87, which is in the low average to average range [69-1, at pp. 16-17]. She further noted that the Defendant has admittedly engaged in chronic illicit drug use for many years, and that he has been diagnosed with Antisocial Personality Disorder [69-1, at pp. 18-19].

         As for the Defendant's competence to stand trial, the psychologist opined that the Defendant exhibits an above average understanding of the criminal charges pending against him and of the nature of the court proceedings [69-1, at p. 19]. She testified that he accurately detailed the 19 Counts he is facing in the Superseding Indictment, and that he is aware that the charges are felonies [69-1, at p. 19]. She further testified that he understands the basis for the charges and the potential sentences if he is convicted [Id.]. She testified that the Defendant demonstrates an above average understanding of the court participants and procedures, and that he is knowledgeable about trial procedures [Id. at p. 20]. As for the Defendant's ability to assist in his defense, the psychologist opined that the Defendant demonstrates "an average capacity to cooperate and assist counsel in his defense." [Id.] She further testified that the Defendant's Anti-Social Disorder does not render him incompetent, and that this Disorder is in any event not the type of condition that will render a defendant incompetent.

         In sum, the psychologist testified and opined that "there is no evidence to indicate the defendant suffers from a mental disorder or disease that would substantially impair his present ability to understand the nature and consequences of the court proceedings brought against him, or substantially impair his ability to assist counsel in his defense." [Id. at p. 21]. Accordingly, in her expert opinion, the Defendant is competent to stand trial.

         In Porter, the Fifth Circuit addressed a situation similar to this one. The defense counsel's argument in Porter was that the defendant's "refusal to cooperate must mean that he is not able to communicate with and help his lawyers." Porter, 907 F.3d at 381. Both the district court and the Fifth Circuit rejected that argument, however, as the Court does today herein, and found that while the defendant was difficult, he was able to cooperate with his attorneys but simply chose to not do so. Id. In affirming the district court, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the defendant's uncooperative nature did not, by itself, render him incompetent, and that the defendant fully understood the nature of the proceedings and that he could cooperate with others when he chose to do so. Id. at 382. In so ruling, the Fifth Circuit distinguished between a defendant being unable to assist in his own defense and being unwilling to do so. Id.

         The Court finds the same to be true in the case subjudice, and upon due consideration and after taking all relevant factors into account, hereby finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant herein is competent to stand trial. Specifically, the Court finds that the Defendant is not 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. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d); Porter, 907 F.3d at 380. In so finding, the Court has relied on (1) its own observations of the Defendant's demeanor and behavior, which the Court finds are not indicative of mental incompetence; and (2) the aforementioned medical testimony, which concluded that the Defendant is competent to stand trial. The Defendant has displayed a factual and rational understanding of the proceedings, charges, and potential sentences he is facing. The Court further finds that the Defendant possesses the ability to assist properly in his defense. While the Defendant has, at times, refused to cooperate with his attorney(s), the Court finds that he possesses the ability to communicate with, and assist, his present attorney, as evidenced by his cooperative nature during his mental evaluation. The Court finds that any conflict the Defendant has had with his present attorney is the result of a conscious choice, rather than the product of a mental disease or defect that the Defendant cannot control. Accordingly, the Court finds that the Defendant is competent to stand trial, and he shall proceed to trial on the charges pending against him on November 4, 2019.

         2. Defendant's Motion to Sever ...


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.