OpenJurist

849 F2d 1475 Curtis III v. Arave

849 F.2d 1475

Unpublished Disposition

NOTICE: Ninth Circuit Rule 36-3 provides that dispositions other than opinions or orders designated for publication are not precedential and should not be cited except when relevant under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel.

Harry John CURTIS III, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
Arvon ARAVE, Warden, Idaho State Correctional Institution,
Defendant-Appellee.

No. 87-3553.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted June 6, 1988.
Decided June 16, 1988.

Before EUGENE A. WRIGHT, FERGUSON and BRUNETTI, Circuit Judges.

1

MEMORANDUM*

2

Harry John Curtis ("Curtis") appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, made pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. Curtis appeals on the grounds that the district court erred in determining that he was competent to plead guilty and that he received the functional equivalent of a competency hearing in state court. We affirm.

I.

3

On December 11, 1979, Curtis was arraigned in the state district court in Idaho for first-degree murder and possession of a controlled substance. At that time, the court informed Curtis of 1) the charges contained in the information; 2) the maximum penalties he faced on each charge; 3) his plea options; 4) his right to remain silent; 5) his right to confront witnesses; and 6) his right to be tried by jury. Curtis was also told that he would give up these rights if he pleaded guilty. Curtis pleaded not guilty and informed the court that he would be relying on the defense of insanity or mental defect.

4

On December 20, 1979, the court on its own motion ordered a psychiatric examination of Curtis. Pursuant to the court's order, Curtis was admitted to the Idaho Security Medical Facility, where he was observed over a two-month period and underwent psychological, neurological, and physiological testing. On February 20, 1980, Dr. Estess, the consulting psychiatrist at the facility, submitted an evaluation of Curtis to the court. In his report Dr. Estess concluded that Curtis did not suffer from mental defect or disease; was capable of aiding in his own defense, consulting with his attorney, and understanding the proceedings; and could appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct and conform his behavior to the requirements of the law at the time of the murder. The report also indicated that Dr. Estess had reviewed and considered previous psychiatric evaluations of Curtis. These reports included those made by Dr. Cone and Dr. Braddock, both of whom had examined Curtis while he was in jail awaiting arraignment.

5

Following the submission to the court of Dr. Estess's report, Curtis entered into a plea bargain with the state that would preclude a possible death sentence. On April 17, 1980, the court held a hearing to permit Curtis to plead guilty to the possession charge and a reduced charge of second degree murder. The court repeated to Curtis the rights it had explained at the arraignment and informed him of the maximum penalties for both charges. The court also gave Curtis the opportunity to delay entering a plea, which he rejected. The court inquired as to whether Curtis was entering the plea as a result of coercion or threats, or against his attorney's advice. Curtis answered no to all of these questions and indicated that he had discussed the matter thoroughly with his attorney. He stated that the reason he was pleading guilty was to avoid the death penalty. The court then read the amended information to Curtis and accepted his guilty pleas.

6

On May 19, 1980, the court held a sentencing hearing. At the hearing, the court indicated it had examined all of the information in the presentence report and the reports attached to it. The presentence report contained information regarding Curtis's prior commitment in Washington State Hospital and diagnostic reports from Dr. Estess, Dr. Cone, and Dr. Braddock. Curtis's attorney submitted numerous psychiatric and psychological reports and called as a witness Dr. Cone, the psychiatrist who had examined Curtis both shortly after the murder and immediately prior to the sentencing hearing. Dr. Cone testified extensively regarding the other psychiatric evaluations of Curtis which were before the court and his own assessment of Curtis's past and present mental condition. At the conclusion of his testimony, the court itself questioned Dr. Cone regarding Curtis's present mental capabilities. Several other persons testified, including Curtis.

7

The court explained to Curtis in depth the nature and meaning of the sentences it would pass and asked if he understood exactly what the consequences were of his previously entered guilty plea. Curtis responded that he understood the consequences both at the time of the sentencing hearing and when he had originally entered the plea. He indicated that he knew of the rights he was waiving and was not pleading under threat or coercion. He also rejected the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea, and maintained that he still stood by his earlier guilty plea.

8

The court concurred with Dr. Cone's opinion that Curtis seemed rational and well-organized on the day of the hearing, and determined that Curtis was perfectly aware of the proceedings and had no mental illness. After acknowledging that Curtis still stood by his previous guilty plea after he knew the precise sentence he would receive, the court stated that it was willing to let Curtis's guilty plea stand.

9

The Idaho Supreme Court denied Curtis's appeal to overturn the guilty plea. Curtis subsequently filed in federal district court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. On January 6, 1986, an evidentiary hearing was held before a magistrate to determine whether the state trial court should have held a competency hearing before accepting Curtis's guilty plea, and whether Curtis was competent to plead guilty. On December 4, 1986, the district court accepted in its entirety the report and recommendation of the magistrate, which stated that 1) the state court should have held a competency hearing before accepting Curtis's guilty plea; 2) the state court had held the functional equivalent of a competency hearing; and 3) Curtis was competent to plead guilty at his sentencing hearing when his plea was accepted anew, if not at his original plea hearing. Curtis timely appealed.1

II.

10

Although the state court did not hold a separate hearing on the issue of Curtis's competence to plead guilty, we agree with the district court that Curtis received the functional equivalent of a competency hearing at the time he was sentenced. The record from the sentencing hearing clearly shows "that the court was inquiring into the competence question and seeking all pertinent information." Chavez v. United States, 656 F.2d 512, 520 (9th Cir.1981). The court stated at the hearing that it had examined all of the information in the presentence report and the psychiatric evaluations attached to it. The court questioned witnesses--including Dr. Cone--regarding Curtis's competence. Cf. Moore v. United States, 599 F.2d 310, 313-14 (9th Cir.1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1024 (1980) (hearing on defendant's competence to plead guilty was adequate where only one psychiatrist testified on defendant's competence to plead guilty and other evidence consisted of prior testimony regarding defendant's competence to stand trial). Curtis was represented by counsel and had all of the protections of an adversary hearing. The competency inquiry at his sentencing hearing thus met the requirements of due process. See Chavez, 656 F.2d at 520 (court's inquiry into defendant's competence, conducted at the same hearing in which defendant pleaded guilty, was sufficient to satisfy due process where defendant was given the opportunity to rebut court's basis for a finding of competence but did not wish to pursue the matter); see also Greenfield v. Gunn, 556 F.2d 935, 937 (9th Cir.) cert. denied, 434 U.S. 928 (1977) (competency hearing was adequate under the due process clause when defendant was present, represented by adequate counsel, and had an opportunity to present other evidence).

11

Curtis argues that he did not receive an adequate competency hearing because the court conducted only a limited inquiry into Curtis's competence for sentencing purposes, and did not focus on whether he was competent to plead guilty. This argument lacks merit.

12

Curtis correctly asserts that a higher standard of competence is required to plead guilty than is needed to stand trial or participate in non-trial proceedings that do not involve a waiver of constitutional rights. See Chavez, 656 F.2d at 519, n. 3. To determine whether a defendant is competent to plead guilty, a court must apply the standard set forth in Sieling v. Eyman, 478 F.2d 211 (9th Cir.1973) (quoting Schoeller v. Dunbar, 423 F.2d 1183, 1194 (9th Cir.1970) (Hufstedler, J., dissenting). There the court held that "[a] defendant is not competent to plead guilty if a mental illness has substantially impaired his ability to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives presented to him or to understand the nature of the consequences of his plea." Id. at 215. The record in Curtis's case shows that the court evaluated Curtis's competence by this standard. Cf. Chavez, 656 F.2d at 520 (even though the court had not stated which standard it was applying to evaluate defendant's competence to plead guilty, there was no indication that the court applied inappropriate standard).

13

After Dr. Cone had testified that Curtis was stable on the day of the hearing--and that he had found no evidence of psychosis when he had interviewed him earlier that day--the court asked Dr. Cone more specific questions regarding Curtis's present mental capabilities. The court explicitly inquired as to whether on the day of the hearing Curtis was 1) capable of understanding the courtroom proceedings; 2) capable of reviewing his earlier decision to plead guilty; 3) exhibiting enough insight, intelligence, independence, and capability to change his plea; and 4) rational enough to make reasonable decisions about his life. These questions all were directed towards establishing that Curtis "had the ability to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives presented to him and to understand the nature of the consequences of his plea." See Sieling, 478 F.2d at 215. They enabled the court to determine whether Curtis was capable of both making a rational and reasoned decision to stand by--and not withdraw--his earlier guilty plea and understanding the nature and consequences of that decision. The court thus made the appropriate inquiry.

14

We also reject Curtis's argument that, because the sentencing hearing took place after his original change of plea hearing, the court's inquiry at sentencing into his competence was not an adequate substitute for holding an earlier, separate competency hearing.2 Curtis was given ample opportunity at the sentencing hearing to withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to trial. The court asked Curtis's attorney if he had discussed with Curtis whether he was prepared to stay with his plea, and asked Curtis himself whether he was going to withdraw his plea. The court also asked Curtis three times if he was standing by his previous guilty plea. Each time, Curtis answered yes. Since Curtis had the opportunity to withdraw his guilty plea yet insisted on standing by it, he "pleaded anew" at the sentencing hearing. The court thus did not violate Curtis's due process rights by making a competency determination before he "pleaded anew," rather than at the original change of plea hearing.

IV.

15

We also agree with the district court's finding that Curtis was competent to plead guilty at the sentencing hearing, when he pleaded guilty anew, if not at the original entry of his guilty plea. The testimony of Curtis's own witness, Dr. Cone, shows that on the day of the sentencing hearing, Curtis met the standard required for finding him competent to plead guilty, or plead anew. Curtis testified at the sentencing hearing that he understood the consequences of pleading guilty, and that he had understood the consequences at his earlier change of plea hearing. There is no evidence in the record to indicate that Curtis was not competent at sentencing to plead anew, or to make a decision to stand by his earlier guilty plea.3 We therefore affirm the decision of the district court.

16

AFFIRMED.

*

This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3

1

The state argues that the district court erred in determining that Curtis was entitled to a competency hearing. We need not address that issue since Curtis does not raise it on appeal. Moreover, the record in Curtis's case supports the district court's conclusion. Due process requires a court sua sponte to hold a hearing on a defendant's competence to plead guilty whenever the court has or should have "a good faith doubt as to the defendant's ability to understand the nature and consequences of the plea, or to participate intelligently in the proceedings and to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives presented." Chavez v. United States, 656 F.2d 512, 515 (9th Cir.1981). A good faith doubt arises when there is substantial evidence in the record of incompetence. Harding v. Lewis, 834 F.2d 853, 856 (9th Cir.1987). Such evidence includes a history of irrational behavior and medical opinion. Id. In Curtis's case, the state court had before it psychiatric records showing Curtis's long and extensive history of mental illness, and reports which cast doubt on his competency. The district court thus was correct in its finding that Curtis was entitled to a competency hearing

2

We are not persuaded by Curtis's argument that even if he did "plead anew" at the sentencing hearing, acceptance of that plea was devoid of due process because his rights were not read to him again at that time. Curtis indicated at the hearing that he remembered them from his prior change of plea hearing and that he knew he was waiving them. He also stated that he understood--both at the earlier hearing and the sentencing hearing--exactly the consequences of his earlier plea. Curtis thus was well aware of the rights that he was waiving

3

The record from the change of plea hearing also indicates that Curtis was competent to plead guilty at that time. The most recent psychiatric evaluation of Curtis was Dr. Estess's report, which concluded that Curtis had been able to form the requisite intent at the time of the murder, suffered from no mental disease or defect, and was competent to understand the charges against him and aid in his own defense. Curtis indicated to the court that he knew the report disagreed with his claim of temporary insanity, and that he was pleading guilty to avoid the death penalty. Nothing in the record indicates that at that time, Curtis did not understand the nature and consequences of his guilty plea, or that he was unable to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives presented