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United States v. Hall

decided: June 24, 1975.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
MORRIS HALL, APPELLANT



Appeal from bank robbery conviction after jury trial in the Southern District of New York, Charles E. Stewart, Jr., District Judge, the chief issue being the propriety of the trial judge's denial of a psychiatric examination to determine defendant's competence to stand trial.

Smith, Oakes and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Timbers

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge :

On this appeal from a bank robbery conviction after a five day jury trial in the Southern District of New York before Charles E. Stewart, Jr., District Judge, the only claim of error that warrants even this brief opinion is the asserted abuse of discretion on the part of the trial judge in refusing on the third day of the trial to order a psychiatric examination of defendant to determine his competence to stand trial. Other claims of error are raised. We affirm.

I.

On January 25, 1973, Morris Hall entered the Security National Bank at 84th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. After talking with the head teller, he ordered her to fill a brown paper bag with money. She pulled the alarm and started to fill the bag. Hall produced a gun and told her to hurry up. She put $27,078 in the bag, including $500 in bait money. When a bank guard approached Hall to find out what the trouble was, Hall disarmed the guard and kept his gun. Shortly after the robbery, four men (not including Hall) brought into the bank a brown paper bag containing money, among which was $480 of the bait money. Two of Hall's fingerprints were on the brown paper bag. The head teller and another teller provided eyewitness identification of Hall at the trial.

On April 13, 1973, Hall was arrested in a luncheonette for menacing another man with a gun. This gun turned out to be the one Hall had taken from the bank guard on January 25. Hall stated, falsely, that he had bought it for $50.

On May 31, 1973, while Hall was in custody at Riker's Island on a New York State charge and after receiving the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694, 86 S. Ct. 1602 (1966), he gave a statement to FBI agents. In his statement, he provided the details of his robbery of the bank. He explained that the bag containing the money had broken while he was escaping. This forced him to leave it on the street with some of the money still in it. He admitted that the gun found in his possession when he was arrested in the luncheonette on April 13 was the one he had taken from the bank guard during the robbery on January 25.

On August 17, 1973, Hall was indicted on one count of bank robbery in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) (1970). After evidentiary pre-trial suppression hearings in January 1974, his motions to suppress were denied. He was tried before Judge Stewart and a jury beginning February 13. The jury returned a guilty verdict on February 21. Judge Stewart on March 18 sentenced him to the custody of the Attorney General for a study, report and recommendation pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4208(b) and (c) (1970). After receiving and studying the report and recommendation, Judge Stewart on July 3, 1974 sentenced Hall to a term of 15 years imprisonment, with a recommendation that the government provide a period of community supervision after his release.

II.

Since Hall on appeal does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction and we find that evidence to be overwhelming, we turn directly to what we consider to be the only issue that warrants brief discussion - the refusal of the court to order a psychiatric examination to determine Hall's competence to stand trial.

Since this is a matter which necessarily rests in the sound discretion of the district court, we note at the outset that we find it difficult to fathom from the record whether Hall's counsel ever did make a motion for a psychiatric examination addressed to the district court. On appeal his counsel argues that certain statements made by him on the third day of the trial should be construed as a motion for a psychiatric examination pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4244 (1970).

What Hall's counsel brought to the attention of the court on the third day of the trial was essentially this: that Hall had been confined from December 10, 1971 to February 8, 1972 at the Matteawan State Hospital where he had had a psychotic episode from which he had recovered; that several days prior to the first day of trial, due to an altercation, Hall had been transferred from the Tombs to the Riker's Island Hospital; and on the third day of the trial, Hall had appeared in court disheveled, was in handcuffs and leg-irons, and refused to communicate with his counsel.

Upon analysis, we hold that this information, in the context of the entire record, did not constitute "reasonable cause to believe" that Hall was "so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against him ...


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