United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi
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 , a motion to exclude
evidence at trial , and a motion for substitution of
counsel . 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.
Factual Background and Competence to Stand Trial
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 . 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 . The
Court granted the motion  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 .' The Court then scheduled the
September 19, 2019, hearing in order to adjudicate the
Defendant's mental competency to stand trial . 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].
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  unable to understand the nature and consequences of
the proceedings against him or  to assist properly in his
defense. United States v. Porter, 907 F.3d
374, 380 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting 18 U.S.C. §
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
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).
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.
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.
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].
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.
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.
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.
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.
Defendant's Motion to Sever ...