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United States v. Humphries

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 10, 2013


Carl G. Eurenius, Assistant United States Attorney, Richard Hartunian, Office of the United States Attorney, Syracuse, NY.

Douglas R. Dollinger, Esq., Douglas R. Dollinger, P.C. & Associates, Goshen, NY, For Defendant.


NORMAN A. MORDUE, District Judge.


On February 7, 2012, defense counsel for defendant William David Humphries filed a motion requesting that the Court order a mental examination of his client to determine his competency to stand trial. Dkt. No. 22. Following a series of telephone conferences with the Court, the parties submitted letters, Dkt. Nos. 24, 25, advising the Court of the status of their attempts to agree on a physician to conduct the psychiatric examination and defendant's failure to execute medical release forms.

Based on defendant's submissions and the information provided during the above-referenced telephone conferences, the Court found that there was "reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be 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(a). On June 12, 2012, the Court entered an order pursuant to §§ 4241(b) and 4247(b) directing that an out-patient psychiatric examination of defendant be conducted by Thomas Martin, M.D., in Columbia, South Carolina. Dkt. No. 26. Although the Court ordered that the evaluation be conducted within thirty days, the parties had difficulty procuring defendant's medical records for Dr. Martin. As a result, the Court extended the deadline for the examination. On September 26, 2012, Dr. Martin conducted a forensic psychiatric examination. On or about October 17, 2012, Dr. Martin provided his "Forensic Psychiatric Summary" to the government, which provided copies to the Court and defense counsel.

Upon referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.3(d), United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles held an evidentiary hearing on the issue of competency and issued an excellent and thorough Report and Recommendation, Dkt. No. 40, concluding that "the defendant possesses a sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational legal understanding, and that he has a rational, as well as factual, understanding of the proceedings against him." Dkt. No. 40, p.16. Magistrate Judge Peebles therefore recommended that the Court find defendant competent to stand trial. Id. Defendant objects. Dkt. No. 41.


Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court is required to review de novo those parts of a report and recommendation to which a party specifically objects. "If no objections are filed, or where objections are merely perfunctory responses, ' argued in an attempt to engage the district court in a rehashing of the same arguments set forth in the original petition, ' reviewing courts should review a report and recommendation for clear error." Edwards v. Fischer, 414 F.Supp.2d 342, 346-67 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Vega v. Artuz, No. 97 Civ. 3775LTSJCF, 2002 WL 31174466, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2002)).

Defense counsel objects to Magistrate Judge Peebles's findings, asserting that defendant is unable to assist in his defense because he cannot maintain a consistent level of focus, lacks impulse control, cannot appreciate the consequences of his statements, is irritable, and is uncooperative. Defense counsel also asserts that Dr. Daniel E. DeCamps's testimony should be accepted as true. Having reviewed the entire record de novo, that Court concludes that even through defendant has mental ailments that make him irritable and, at times, uncooperative with his attorney, and cause difficulties with concentration and impulse control, the preponderance of the evidence supports a finding that, at present, defendant retains a sufficient ability to consult with his attorney and understand the proceedings against him.

The standard for determining whether a defendant is competent to stand trial is well settled. "The defendant must have (1) sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' and (2) a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'" United States v. Nichols, 56 F.3d 403, 410 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960) (per curiam)). A district court's determination of competency is made on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Morrison, 153 F.3d 34, 46 (2d Cir. 1998). In making this determination, the district court may properly rely on a number of factors, including medical opinions and the district court's "observation of the defendant's comportment." Nichols, 56 F.3d at 411.

The evidence adduced at the hearing established that defendant suffered physical injuries, including a fractured tibia and head injury, as a result of an automobile accident on November 10, 2010. Following the accident, in addition to ongoing pain, he complained to Daniel E. DeCamps, M.D., his family doctor, of "severe headaches, anxiety, fear, dizziness, nausea, vertigo, ringing in his ears, weakness to his extremities and forgetfulness." Dr. DeCamps, who saw defendant sixteen times after the accident and obtained "a detailed history of the significant changes in his mental state" from defendant's family, concluded that defendant had "become confused, unreasonably stubborn and that his overall disposition had change[ed]." Dr. DeCamps performed a mental status examination during which he asked defendant to remember three objects for five minutes and verbalize a set of serial sevens, in reverse from 100. Defendant only recalled one of the three objects and verbalized two serial sevens. Dr. DeCamps diagnosed plaintiff with post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain syndrome, and post-traumatic encephalopathy, all of which can cause difficulties with memories and concentration.

Dr. DeCamps testified that, in his opinion, defendant would be unable "to provide a coherent, consistent account of past events, " and that defendant's condition hindered his ability to testify in his own defense because of "his impulsive verbal responses with no immediate considerations regarding the consequences". Dr. DeCamps further stated that defendant's susceptibility to redirection could cause him to give inconsistent answers.

In October 2011, Dr. DeCamps referred defendant to neurologist Joseph Healy, Jr. Dr. Healy sent defendant for an MRI, which did not reveal any specific abnormalities, except a small area of "abnormal signal in the left parietal brain" which "might" indicate defendant had "a small stroke". Dr. Healy stated, however, that this abnormality did not explain defendant's cognitive difficulties. At the hearing, Dr. Healy testified that defendant's "main problem from a neurologic standpoint seemed to be personality issues, complaints about memory, mainly relative to the accident." Dr. Healy stated that his testing indicated that defendant's "day-to-day" memory "was probably about 80 to 90 percent intact." Dr. Healy also testified that ...

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