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United States v. Gillispie

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

June 27, 2017


          Christopher H. Steger, Magistrate Judge



         On April 20, 2017, United States Magistrate Judge Christopher H. Steger filed a report and recommendation, recommending that Defendant be found competent to stand trial. (Doc. 76.) Defendant objected to the report and recommendation, arguing that the medical evaluator and the magistrate judge evaluated him contrary to law and that the preponderance of the evidence demonstrated he is incompetent to stand trial. (Doc. 77.) The Court has conducted a de novo review of the record as it relates to Defendant's objections and, for the reasons stated hereafter, will OVERRULE Defendant's objections (Doc. 77) and ACCEPT and ADOPT the magistrate judge's report and recommendation (Doc. 76).

         I. BACKGROUND

         After reviewing the record, the Court finds the facts to be consistent with Magistrate Judge Steger's report and recommendation.[1] Accordingly, the Court ADOPTS BY REFERENCE the facts as set out in the report and recommendation. (Doc. 76); see, e.g., United States v. Winters, 782 F.3d 289, 295 n.1 (6th Cir. 2013). The following are additional facts pertinent to the Court's consideration at this stage.

         On May 17, 2016, a grand jury returned a multiple-count indictment that charged Defendant with, among other things, kidnapping and sexual exploitation through the use of force. (Doc. 3.) On May 27, 2016, Magistrate Judge Steger appointed Defendant “standby counsel, ” although Defendant “did not want and refused to be represented by counsel after being advised of his rights.” (Doc. 10.) On May 31, 2016, Magistrate Judge Steger held a detention hearing where Defendant testified on his own behalf, against the advice of standby counsel. (Doc. 49, at 51-69.) During that testimony, Defendant answered questions posed by standby counsel, presented arguments regarding his desire to be released on bond during the pendency of these charges, and answered questions posed by Magistrate Judge Steger regarding his testimony. (Id.) Ultimately, Magistrate Judge Steger ruled that Defendant be detained. On June 28, 2016, the Government filed a superseding, ten-count indictment against Defendant. (Doc. 26.)

         Sometime after the detention hearing, the magistrate judge attempted to conduct other court proceedings in conjunction with these charges. However, on each occasion, those proceedings were interrupted by Defendant's disruptive behavior, which began as he was escorted into the courtroom, included endlessly shouting vulgarities, and resulted in restraint by the attending marshals.[2] (Docs. 37, 38; see also Doc. 76, at 1-2.) Standby counsel also reported “extreme agitation and uncommunicative behavior” during private visits. As a result, standby counsel filed a motion to determine competency. (Doc. 37.) Magistrate Judge Steger granted the motion and committed Defendant for a mental health evaluation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241 and 4247. (Doc. 38.) In the Order of Commitment, Magistrate Judge Steger noted specifically that, although Defendant's conduct raised concern about his overall mental competence to stand trial, it also raised the competing concern that Defendant's disruptive conduct could be a “calculated and manipulative effort to seek attention and/or avoid prosecution for the crimes with which he has been charged.” (Doc. 38, at 1.)

         On August 11, 2016, Defendant arrived at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts (“FMC Devens”) for a mental evaluation. (Doc. 65.) Defendant was examined by Dr. Shawn Channell, a forensic psychologist at FMC Devens. (Id.) On December 9, 2016, Dr. Channell issued a sealed mental health report opining that Defendant was competent to stand trial. (Id.) On March 8, 2017, Magistrate Judge Steger held a mental competency hearing and on April 20, 2017, he issued a report and recommendation, recommending that the Court find Defendant competent to stand trial. (Docs. 74, 76.) Defendant filed objections to the report and recommendation. (Doc. 77.) The Government responded (Doc. 81), and Defendant's objections are now ripe for review.


         The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). De novo review does not, however, require the district court to rehear witnesses whose testimony has been evaluated by the magistrate judge. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980). When the question of competency arises, the Government has the burden of proving competency by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Teague, 956 F.2d 1427, 1431 n.10 (7th Cir. 1992).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Defendant objects to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, arguing: (i) the decision relied on an erroneous medical opinion formed without adequately considering Defendant's individual circumstances; and (ii) a preponderance of the evidence supported finding that Defendant is incompetent to stand trial. (Doc. 77, at 1.)

         A district court is obligated “to inquire into a defendant's competency whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial.” United States v. Denkins, 367 F.3d 537, 545 (6th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A defendant is competent to stand trial if he has ‘a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him' and ‘has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.'” United States v. Heard, 762 F.3d 538, 541 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960)). While a district court must consider several factors, including evidence of his demeanor and irrational behavior, in determining competency, United States v. Miller, 531 F.3d 340, 348 (6th Cir. 2008), “[t]here are . . . no fixed or immutable signs which invariably indicate the need for further inquiry to determine fitness to proceed, ” Williams v. Bordenkircher, 696 F.2d 464, 466 (6th Cir. 1983).

         In a civil confinement context, the Sixth Circuit has acknowledged that personality disorders, such as Antisocial Personality Disorder, may serve as part of the basis to find that a defendant suffers from a mental disease or defect. United States v. Beatty, 642 F.3d 514, 517 (6th Cir. 2011). However, in a criminal context, the Sixth Circuit has held that such diagnoses do not require courts to find a mental disease or defect rending a defendant incompetent to stand trial or to inquire further into a defendant's competence to stand trial. See Heard, 762 F.3d at 541-42. In fact, the Sixth Circuit has distinguished personality disorders from mental diseases or defects that precipitate incompetence. Id. (finding that to argue a personality disorder requires further inquiry into a defendant's competency “seriously misunderstands the nature of” personality disorders because “personality disorders are not psychoses.”). More ...

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