United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER ACCEPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DENISE COTE, District Judge.
On July 18, 2014, Magistrate Judge Maas issued a report ("Report") recommending that Kenny Alexis's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 be denied and that no certificate of appealability issue. Alexis v. Griffin, No. 11cv5010 (DLC) (FM), 2014 WL 3545583 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 2014). On August 13, 2014, Alexis submitted an objection to one portion of the Report. Having considered Alexis's objection, the Report is accepted. The petition is denied and no certificate of appealability shall issue.
Familiarity with the case, as described in the Report, is presumed. Here, only the facts pertinent to the ensuing discussion are presented.
Charges were brought against Alexis in New York state court in connection with a one-day crime spree in which he engaged in a series of knife attacks at various locations in Manhattan. In June 2006, shortly after Alexis's arraignment, the trial court sua sponte ordered an initial competency evaluation. Then, in April 2008, at defense counsel's request, the court ordered a second competency evaluation. On both occasions, Alexis was deemed competent. In September 2008, pursuant to N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law § 730.30(2), the court held a competency hearing because Alexis disputed the findings of the second evaluation.
At the hearing, doctors for the People testified that although Alexis had a history of paranoid schizophrenia, he nonetheless was capable of understanding the proceedings against him and assisting in his defense. They concluded that Alexis was malingering - exaggerating his cognitive disabilities - because of frustration with the criminal proceedings. The doctors noted that Alexis had not demonstrated any psychotic symptoms in the months prior to the second evaluation and did not require medication at the time of that evaluation.
A doctor for Alexis, by contrast, testified that Alexis's mental illness would impair his ability to assist in his defense, thereby rendering him unfit to stand trial. This doctor did not believe that Alexis was malingering. On the other hand, the doctor admitted that Alexis seemed to understand the roles of defense counsel, prosecutor, judge, and jury.
The court emphasized that Alexis's paranoid schizophrenia was not, in and of itself, sufficient to render him unfit to stand trial; rather, the question was whether the mental illness impaired his ability to cooperate in the judicial process. In this regard, the court credited the testimony of the People's doctors, finding that Alexis had refused to cooperate because he was "unhappy... with his present situation... [and] with the amount of time that he faces should he be convicted." Accordingly, the court ruled that Alexis was competent.
Following this ruling, Alexis received further inpatient treatment at a psychiatric hospital. Nonetheless, defense counsel requested no further competency inquiry and the case proceeded to trial. The fact of Alexis's hospitalization was later brought to the attention of the trial court.
In January 2009, jury selection began. Alexis's behavior in the courtroom was erratic. On multiple occasions he interrupted exchanges between the court and counsel with indications that he was not ready to proceed to trial - a contention that he had never before raised. The court maintained that this sudden change in Alexis's behavior on the eve of trial seemed "too much of a coinciden[ce]." The court cautioned Alexis that his erratic behavior could cause him to be removed from the courtroom and directed that jury selection proceed.
The morning session of jury selection went forward without incident. Indeed, the court noted that Alexis had been "well behaved" throughout the proceedings. About halfway through the afternoon session, however, Alexis interrupted the proceedings to request a new lawyer. The court reminded Alexis that when it had previously granted his request for new counsel it had cautioned that no further requests would be entertained. Near the end of the day, Alexis again attempted to interrupt the proceedings, requiring court officers to forcibly make him sit. After the prospective jurors were released for the evening, Alexis complained that he was having difficulty breathing. The court offered Alexis a drink of water, but warned that it would not tolerate further disruptive behavior.
The next day jury selection resumed. Soon after proceedings commenced, Alexis stood and began to struggle with court officers, who eventually removed him from the courtroom. At the court's suggestion, defense counsel informed Alexis that the trial would continue in his absence if he was unable to behave. Following this conversation, defense counsel advised the court that Alexis had indicated he was "done for the day" but would return to court the following morning. After another recess, however, defense counsel reported that Alexis wished to return to the courtroom. When he returned, the court again explained that he had a right to be present provided that he did not cause any "commotion" in front of the jury. Alexis indicated that he understood this instruction and would "try" to behave appropriately.
At the end of the day, the court noted that Alexis had been able to sit quietly with no problems. Nonetheless, the court reiterated its expectations regarding appropriate courtroom conduct. Alexis indicated that he understood that while he would be permitted to speak with his lawyer during the proceedings, he could not shout or stand without permission.
When trial began the following morning, the court asked defense counsel to remind Alexis that he would be expected to maintain good behavior throughout the proceedings. Alexis responded by asking whether he could call his family to come pick him up. After advising Alexis that this would not be possible, the court reminded Alexis that he needed to behave in the jury's presence. As the court greeted the jury, however, Alexis stood, began to speak, and struggled with court officers. The court excused the jury and granted defense counsel's request to speak privately with Alexis. After this conversation, defense counsel was unable to assure the court that Alexis would behave. The court therefore directed that Alexis be held outside the courtroom, in ...