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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 27, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff,
Brandon Jones, Defendant.


          ALISON J. NATHAN United States District Judge

         This criminal case arises out of the Defendant, Brandon Jones, allegedly impersonating an officer of an intergovernmental organization between the United States and United Nations and, in connection with this position, passing fraudulent documents to airlines, apartments, and electronics vendors stating that they will be reimbursed with government funds. Defendant has notified the Court and the Government under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.2(b) that it intends to provide evidence at trial in the form of expert testimony that the Defendant suffers from a delusional disorder that prevented him from forming the requisite knowledge and intent to commit the offenses with which he is charged. The Government moved to preclude this expert testimony. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants in part and denies in part the Government's motion to preclude.

         I. Background

         A. Alleged Offenses and Charges

         In July 2016, Brandon Jones (a/k/a "Brandon McGeer, " a/k/a "Brandon Jones-McGeer") was charged in a Complaint with Impersonating an Officer or Employee of the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 912 (Count One), Wire Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Count Two), Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (Count Three), and creating and passing Fictitious Financial Obligations, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 514 (Count Four). See Complaint, Dkt. No. 1. Jones was subsequently indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of New York on August 11, 2016. Indictment, Dkt. No. 6.

         The Complaint alleges that from in or about November 2015[1] through at least July 2016, Jones falsely claimed to be the Commissioner of the "Office of the Commissioner, [a]n IGO, " a nonexistent entity that was purportedly an intergovernmental organization including the United Nations and United States. Complaint at 3-4. In connection with this false title, Jones allegedly purchased thousands of dollars in electronics using fraudulent government purchase orders. Complaint at 5-6. He and alleged co-conspirators also procured over $100, 000 in airline tickets using fraudulent "Government Travel Requests." Complaint at 6-7. Jones allegedly also contacted a salesperson at a long-term apartment rental facility in New York City in June 2016 stating that he wanted an apartment that would be used "for official and Governmental Business" and would be paid for by the Department of Treasury. Complaint at 7. In its motion to preclude, the Government further alleges that Jones also fraudulently secured monogrammed clothing, badges, and insignia for the Office of the Commissioner and a corporate apartment for which he owes more than $70, 000 in rent. Mot. to Preclude, Dkt. No. 66, at 2.

         On May 3, 2017, defense counsel provided the Court and Government with notice of its intent to introduce expert evidence at trial "relating to a mental disease or defect or any other mental condition of the defendant bearing on the issue of guilt" under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.2(b). Exhibit A to Mot. to Preclude, Dkt. No. 66-1, at 1. Specifically, defense counsel stated that it intended to call Dr. Sanford Drob to testify at trial. See Id. Dr. Drob subsequently completed a report on the Defendant's mental health based on "interviews with Mr. Jones, a review of some of the relevant documents in this case, a review of Mr. Jones' MCC records, . . . and the results of administering the Rorschach Inkblot Method (RIM) test as well as the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS) test." Id. at 2.

         B. Dr. Drob's Proposed Testimony

         After reviewing Dr. Drob's report, the Court ordered the Defendant to provide a summary of the testimony Dr. Drob would provide if he were called as a witness. Order, Dkt. No. 59. The proposed testimony of Dr. Drob received by the Court concludes that Jones suffers from "delusional disorder, grandiose type, characterized by an intractable false set of beliefs regarding his educational and professional achievements and financial standing." Attachment to D.'s Email of Dec. 8, 2017 ("Proposed Testimony"), at 1. According to the proposed testimony, Jones suffers from non-bizarre-type delusions that "do not involve completely implausible and incomprehensible claims (such as having his organs replaced with the organs of a Martian), " but which are "not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence." Proposed Testimony at 1. In particular, as relevant here, Dr. Drob states that Jones suffers from a delusion "that he is a full-time United Nations employee on the [Jhuman rights counsel, and in July 2016 celebrated eight years of employment at the UN." Proposed Testimony at 2. The proffered testimony further explains that the Defendant, like others suffering from delusional disorder, "is not 'lying' about these [delusions], but believes them himself and is therefore delusional" and will continue to believe these claims "[e]ven when confronted with evidence that disconfirms the validity of his assertions." Proposed Testimony at 2. Dr. Drob further states that the Defendant's "views about the legitimacy of his organization and his role as the 'Commissioner' are extremely relevant to understanding his beliefs and intentions with respect to the charged conduct." Proposed Testimony at 2. The proposed testimony further notes that individuals who suffer from delusional disorders "typically function reasonably well in areas that are unrelated to their delusions, " and that the Defendant similarly "can be perceived by others as a reasonably well functioning adult and professional." Proposed Testimony at 2.

         The proposed testimony opines that Jones's delusions likely resulted from a combination of factors, including "a personal history of extreme physical and psychological abuse and trauma, which resulted in severe burns and scarring to his legs and feet, the presence of various psychological and medical conditions, including significant learning disabilities, a history of depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, chronic infections and impaired mobility resulting from his burns, " and other physical ailments. Proposed Testimony at 2-3. According to Dr. Drob, grandiose delusions are "often conditioned by a powerful, unconsciously driven need to compensate for severe deficits in self-esteem and the individual's perceived inadequacy of his or her actual life station, " and as a result, Jones's delusions developed to compensate for his intellectual deficiencies and painful upbringing. Proposed Testimony at 2.

         The proffered testimony provides several bases for Dr. Drob's medical opinion. It relies on two separate diagnoses of delusional disorder that Jones received at Kingsbrook Hospital and by the Bureau of Prisons. Proposed Testimony at 3. In support of Jones's claims of abuse, Dr. Drob relies on assessment supplied by counsel indicating] that he was brought to Hospital suffering from dehydration, hyponatremia . . ., and extensive 2nd degree burns on his lower legs and torso." Proposed Testimony at 4. He also relies on records diagnosing Jones with "various learning and emotional problems" Proposed Testimony at 4.

         Dr. Drob's testimony also relies on several tests that the doctor performed, including a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-4th Edition test signifying that Jones's "capacity for both verbal and nonverbal reasoning is significantly compromised" and that his common sense and social judgment scores were "in the lowest 5th percentile." Proposed Testimony at 4. Dr. Drob also conducted an RBANS test, or Repeatable Battery of the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status, on which the Defendant "score[d] in the lowest 0.1 percentile in comparison to similarly aged peers, a finding that is highly suggestive of a very significant learning disorder." Proposed Testimony at 4-5. According to the proposed testimony, such cognitive deficiencies both "point to one source of Mr. Jones' extremely low self-esteem, which he has compensated for through a completely unrealistic account of his own educational and occupational accomplishments, " and indicate "impairments in his memory and thinking that facilitate his distortions regarding these accomplishments." Proposed Testimony at 5. Similarly, the results of a Rorschach test administered to Jones indicated "severe deficits in reality testing that contribute to a failure in separating fantasy from reality." Proposed Testimony at 6. The proposed testimony concludes that Jones's history of trauma and significant cognitive deficiencies "facilitated the creation of a pathological fantasy life in which Mr. Jones converted his trauma and handicaps into a personal asset and presented himself to both himself and others as an extremely successful, philanthropic, and influential figure." Proposed Testimony at 6.

         Dr. Drob would also testify that the tests performed on Jones strongly contradict any suggestion that the Defendant is malingering or lying about his delusions. The proposed testimony states that indices internal to the RBANS "indicate that Mr. Jones made a concerted effort on testing and did not endeavor to malinger or exaggerate cognitive deficits." Proposed Testimony at 5. Likewise, on the Millon Clinical Axial Inventory, 3rd edition test administered to the Defendant, Jones "presented himself as healthy and well-functioning" despite the objective criteria demonstrating that he displayed "limited insight" and "naivete about psychological matters and an effort to garner social approval." Proposed Testimony at 5. Dr. Drob's proposed testimony states that Jones "has made every effort to impress that he is not mentally ill and that he is indeed the highly successful individual he presents himself to be." Proposed Testimony at 6.

         C. Motion to Preclude

         On August 30, 2017, the Government filed a Motion to Preclude Dr. Drob from testifying at trial. See Mot. to Preclude. In its motion, the Government argues that Dr. Drob's testimony is ' inadmissible because it impermissibly puts forth an insanity defense in violation of the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984; because the testimony presents a risk of misleading the jury that substantially outweighs the testimony's probative value in violation of Federal Rule of Evidence 403; because the testimony is not relevant to an issue the jury will need to decide under Federal Rules of Evidence 401, 402, and 702; and that, even if some parts of the testimony are admitted, Jones's statements to Dr. Drob are inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 703.

         To assist the Court in deciding the motion, oral argument was held on November 22, 2017. Following that hearing, the Court has issued numerous orders for additional information from both parties. See Dkt. Nos. 55, 59, 62, 69. The Court has reviewed all of the information it has received from both parties on this issue.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 ("IDRA") states, in relevant part, that:

It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any Federal statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.

18 U.S.C. § 17(a). It further mandates that "[t]he defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence." Id. § 17(b). In enacting the IDRA, Congress sought to place a number of limitations on a criminal defendant's ability to introduce mental health evidence, including: (1) the elimination of any form of legal excuse based on a defendant's lack of volitional control, (2) elimination of affirmative defenses such as "diminished capacity, " "diminished responsibility, " "mitigation, " and "justification, " (3) limitation on the use of expert psychological testimony on ultimate legal issues, (4) alteration of the burden of proof to require the defendant to prove the affirmative defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence, and (5) creation of a special verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity, " which triggers federal civil commitment proceedings. United States v. Cameron, 907 F.2d 1051, 1061 (11th Cir. 1990); United States v. Sabir, No. 05-cr-673 (LAP), 2007 WL 1373184, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. May 10, 2007).

         Although the IDRA restricts a criminal defendant's ability to utilize mental health evidence as an affirmative defense, courts have consistently held that "the IDRA does not preclude a defendant from submitting evidence of mental health for the purpose of negating the intent element of a crime." United States v. Dupre, 462 F.3d 131, 137 n.8 (2d Cir. 2006); see also Cameron, 907 F.2d at 1067; United States v. Pohlot, 827 F.2d 889, 897 (3d Cir. 1987); United States v. Dupre, 339 F.Supp.2d 534, 539 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (collecting cases), off'd 462 F.3d 131. Relying on text, structure, legislative history, and the purposes of the IDRA, courts have concluded that the IDRA "bar[s] only alternative 'affirmative defenses' that 'excuse' misconduct, " but "not evidence that disproves an element of the crime itself." Pohlot, 827 F.2d at 897. In other words, the IDRA bars use of expert testimony to support an affirmative defense excusing the defendant's conduct because he either could not control his actions "because of a supposed psychiatric compulsion" or could not understand the wrongness of his actions because of an "inability or failure to engage in normal reflection." Dupre, 339 F.Supp.2d at 541 (quoting United States v. Worrell, 313 F.3d 867, 873 (4th Cir. 2002)). However, the IDRA "does not preclude a defendant from submitting mental health evidence for the purpose of rebutting the prosecution's proof of the mens rea element of a specific intent crime." Dupre, 462 F.3dat 137.

         To ensure that mental health evidence is introduced for the permissible purpose of negating mens rea rather than as an affirmative defense to excuse the defendant's conduct, courts must satisfy themselves that the evidence "would, if believed, 'support a legally acceptable theory of lack of mens rea.'" Dupre, 339 F.Supp.2d at 541 (quoting Cameron, 907 F.2d at 1067). Such evidence should be admitted only if there is "a genuine link between the proffered expert testimony and the issue of [mens rea.}.'" Id. (emphasis added). Put another way, "a defendant is required to demonstrate clearly, in advance of trial, that there is a direct link between such evidence and the specific mens rea that the Government must prove." Sabir, 2007 WL 1373184, at *5; see also Cameron, 907 F.2d at 1067 n.31 ("The proper focus should be on the proffered link or relationship between the specific psychiatric evidence offered and the mens rea at issue in the case.").

         Even if the mental health evidence could be offered for a legitimate purpose under the IDRA, the court must also determine whether the evidence's potential to "mislead the jury into concludingf] that the defendant was temporarily insane, that the disease caused the defendant to commit the crime or otherwise impaired her ability to exert volitional control, or that the disease impaired the defendant's ability to reflect on the consequences of her conduct" substantially outweighs its probative value under Federal Rule of Evidence 403. Dupre, 339 F.Supp.2d at 540-41. That is, if the risk that the jury will interpret the evidence to support an affirmative defense that is impermissible under the IDRA rather than to negate the mens rea element of the offense substantially outweighs the probative value of the evidence, it must be excluded. See id.; Fed.R.Evid. 403. Courts have cautioned that there are "special concerns ...

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