the court denied the motion, holding that it was "too late" and that "we all are" delusional. (Id.) The court did not accept defense counsel's argument that CPL 730 provides for an examination at any point during the proceedings. (Id.) Rather, the court stated that "we have had him submitted for 730 before, and at some point this has to end. We cannot go on ad infinitum." (Tr. 139.)
Defense counsel again sought a psychiatric examination after the jury found Johnson guilty, and the court again denied the request. (Tr. 239.) The court did, however, state that it would recommend treatment and examination "through the Department of Corrections, if they deem it necessary." (Id.)
On November 19, 1990, defense counsel made a written motion to set aside the verdict pursuant to CPL § 330.30,
because of the court's repeated denials of the 730 examinations. (Petition Ex. C: Notice of Motion and Frankel Affirmation.) Dr. Goldstein's report finding Johnson unfit to stand trial was submitted as part of the motion. (Id.) The motion also included the recommendation of the Probation Department's psychiatric clinic that Johnson receive "closely monitored psychiatric treatment." (Id.: Frankel Affirmation P11.) On December 19, 1990, the trial judge denied the motion, holding that Johnson "does not have the medical evidence to support defense counsel's theory." (Petition Ex. D.)
On January 4, 1991, Johnson was sentenced to 12 1/2 to 25 years as a predicate felon. (Sentencing Tr. at 7.) Defense counsel, in an effort to have the sentence reduced, again brought to the court's attention Johnson's "obvious mental incapacity to aid and assist [counsel] in his defense." (Id. at 2.) The court still refused to consider Johnson's competency, but did recommend that Johnson receive psychiatric treatment while serving his sentence. (Id. at 8.)
Johnson's State Court Appeal
The First Department denied Johnson's appeal. People v. Johnson, 208 A.D.2d 456, 617 N.Y.S.2d 313 (1st Dep't 1994). The appellate court held that the trial judge properly exercised his discretion in not granting a second competency hearing, in light of the June report finding Johnson fit to stand trial. (Id.) The New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. People v. Johnson, 85 N.Y.2d 863, 624 N.Y.S.2d 382, 648 N.E.2d 802 (1995).
Johnson's Present Federal Habeas Petition
On April 19, 1996, the Office of the Appellate Defender filed the instant habeas petition on Johnson's behalf. (See Petition.) The Petition asserts that the conviction of a legally incompetent person violates the right to due process guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. (Petition P 11.) Furthermore, the petition asserts, Johnson's right to due process was violated when the state court refused to hold a second competency hearing, despite the fact that a sufficient doubt was raised as to Johnson's fitness to stand trial. (Id.)
THE STATE COURT'S REFUSAL TO HOLD A SECOND COMPETENCY HEARING VIOLATED JOHNSON'S DUE PROCESS RIGHT TO A FAIR TRIAL.
A. The Applicable Law
Subjecting an incompetent person to trial is a violation of that person's constitutional right to due process. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815, 86 S. Ct. 836 (1966). Therefore, failure to hold a competency hearing when the evidence warrants one is unconstitutional. See Nicks v. United States, 955 F.2d 161, 167 (2d Cir. 1992). Federal courts have granted habeas corpus petitions when trial courts failed to hold competency hearings despite evidence in the record sufficient to trigger the court's obligation to examine the defendant's fitness to stand trial. See Pate, 383 U.S. at 386; Silverstein v. Henderson, 706 F.2d 361, 369 (2d Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 864, 78 L. Ed. 2d 171, 104 S. Ct. 195 (1983).
New York law defines an incompetent person as one who "as a result of mental disease or defect lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense." N.Y. CPL § 730.30(1). The inquiry is similar under federal law: "Whether the [defendant] has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding -- and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402, 4 L. Ed. 2d 824, 80 S. Ct. 788 (1960).
New York Criminal Procedure Law § 730, which establishes the procedure for determining competency, provides that:
1. At any time after a defendant is arraigned upon an accusatory instrument other than a felony complaint and before the imposition of sentence, or at any time after a defendant is arraigned upon a felony complaint and before he is held for the action of the grand jury, the court wherein the criminal action is pending must issue an order of examination when it is of the opinion that the defendant may be an incapacitated person.