United States District Court, Southern District of New York
January 16, 1990
CHRISTOPHER DENNIS, PETITIONER,
A.L. TURNER, RESPONDENT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.
Pro se petitioner Christopher Dennis ("Dennis") has
petitioned this court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2255. Dennis contends his federal sentence was
unlawfully imposed because he was tried without first having
his mental competency tested and, further, that he was denied
effective assistance of counsel at trial because his lawyer
failed to request that Dennis' competency to stand trial be so
tested. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is
On November 18, 1980, following a jury trial, Dennis and a
co-defendant were found guilty of several counts of bank
robbery and related offenses. Neither before nor during trial
did Dennis or his lawyer question Dennis' competency to stand
trial. After the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
vacated Dennis' initial sentence, on remand the District Court
(Pollack, J.) sentenced Dennis on May 22, 1981 to consecutive
prison terms of 25 years and 20 years on two of the counts.
The instant petition originally was assigned to the sentencing
court but subsequently and randomly was reassigned to this
court. The petition indicates Dennis previously submitted a
motion to the sentencing court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255,
seeking reconsideration of his conviction on grounds similar to
those alleged here. He has failed to indicate what, if any,
docket number was assigned to that submission and no copy of
such a filing has been located. Dennis further states that the
prior petition was rejected on October 18, 1988, but no written
opinion or order dismissing that application has been
A trial judge "must exercise his discretion to determine
whether there is `reasonable cause' to believe that the
defendant may be incompetent." United States v. Oliver,
626 F.2d 254, 258 (2d Cir. 1980), quoting Newfield v. United
States, 565 F.2d 203, 206 (2d Cir. 1977). No hearing on
competency is required if a court has not been given reasonable
cause to believe that a defendant has competency problems.
See, e.g. United States v. Vamos, 797 F.2d 1146, 1150 (2d
Cir. 1986); United States v. Oliver, 626 F.2d at 258-59;
Newfield v. United States, 565 F.2d at 206-07.
Dennis' petition contains no information that suggests that at
time of trial and sentencing, the court had any basis to doubt
that Dennis had "sufficient present ability to consult with his
lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" or
that he lacked "a rational as well as a factual understanding
of the proceedings against him." Dusky v. United States,
362 U.S. 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960) (per curiam).
Neither before or during trial did Dennis or his lawyer
question his competency to stand trial. Moreover, review of a
of colloquy between the court and the petitioner at a
suppression hearing held in the criminal proceeding reveals
that Dennis at the time was rational, attentive and
well-informed (even to the point of provoking a query from the
court as to whether petitioner had studied law). United States
v. Dennis, S-80 Cr. 290 (Nov. 14, 1980 Suppression Hearing).
Petitioner did not testify at trial or at other ancillary
proceedings. The only recorded statements of petitioner were
those made at the suppression hearing, which, as noted,
demonstrate that Dennis possessed a more than adequate
understanding of his rights and the proceedings against him.
Petitioner has failed to present or identify any other evidence
that he lacked competency at the time of trial or even to point
to information that would have intimated at that time the
existence of genuine concerns as to his competency sufficient
to warrant a hearing on the question. Accordingly, there is no
reason to doubt that the trial judge acted within his sound
discretion in not ordering, sua sponte, a hearing into
Dennis' mental competency.
Dennis' ineffective assistance of counsel claim is equally
lacking in support. Given the absence of any evidence
indicating Dennis' competency was in doubt at the time of
trial, counsel for Dennis obviously will not be presumed to
have represented Dennis deficiently in failing to request a
competency hearing. Failing such a showing of "unprofessional
error," Dennis cannot begin to establish "a reasonable
probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the
result of the proceeding would have been different."
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052,
2068, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).
The filing of a Section 2255 petition "does not automatically
entitle petitioner to a hearing." Newfield v. United States,
565 F.2d at 207. Here, as in Newfield, the petitioner has
failed to set forth specific controverted facts bearing on his
competency which he is in a position to establish by competent
evidence at a hearing. Given the sparse and conclusory nature
of Dennis' assertions, a § 2255 hearing is unwarranted.
The petition is denied for the reasons stated above. The clerk
is directed to enter judgment.
It is so ordered.
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