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United States v. Elliott

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

June 13, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MARK EDWARD ELLIOTT

OPINION AND ORDER

MYRON H. THOMPSON, District Judge.

Defendant Mark Edward Elliott has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing methamphetamine in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846 & 841(a)(1). This matter is now before the court on Elliott's motion for evaluation, which essentially makes two requests: (1) a competency-for-trial evaluation and (2) a mental-health evaluation for sentencing purposes. The motion will be granted.

I. Competency

"At any time after the commencement of a prosecution for an offense and prior to the sentencing of the defendant, ... the defendant... may file a motion for a hearing to determine the mental competency of the defendant." 18 U.S.C. §4241(a). "The court shall grant" such motion "if there is 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." Id . The court may order a defendant to be committed for a reasonable period to the custody of the Attorney General to be placed in a suitable Bureau of Prisons facility for a competency examination. 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241(b); 4247(b).

In this case, based upon the representations made by counsel for Elliott in his motion for evaluation and during a conference call held on the record on June 12, 2014, the court concludes that there is reasonable cause to believe Elliott may not be competent. Specifically, counsel for Elliott indicates that she "questions whether Elliott's mental state and condition would preclude him from being competent to stand trial and for purposes of sentencing, " Motion for Mental Evaluation (Doc. No. 573) at 1, based in part on Elliott's repeated pro se filings in this case, head trauma he has apparently suffered while incarcerated during the pendency of this case, reported lifelong history of drug abuse, and allegations that he committed sexual assault.

The government has no objection to a competency evaluation and a competency hearing. The court will, therefore, order the Bureau of Prisons to do a competency evaluation of Elliott, and, after receipt of the evaluation, the court will hold a hearing.

II. Presentence Study

During a conference call held on the record on June 12, 2014, counsel for Elliott indicated that she is also requesting the evaluation for the purpose of assisting the court in fashioning an appropriate sentence if Elliott is found competent. The court construes this request as a motion for a presentence study pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3552(a).

"Although district courts are no longer bound to follow the Sentencing Guidelines after United States v. Booker , 543 U.S. 220 (2005), they still must consult the Guidelines and take them into account when sentencing defendants." United States v. Todd , 618 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1352-53 (M.D. Ala. 2009) (Thompson, J.). The court must calculate the applicable range of sentences recommended by the Guidelines. The court may then decide to impose a sentence outside of the Guidelines system, commonly known as a "variance."

The court is bound, however, to impose a sentence that is reasonable. The factors set for in 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) guide the court's determination of the reasonableness of a sentence. Those factors are (1) the nature and circumstances of the offense; (2) the history and characteristics of the defendant; (3) the need for the sentence imposed to punish the offender, protect the public from the defendant, rehabilitate the defendant, deter others, and provide medical care; (4) the kinds of sentences available; (5) the sentencing range established by the Sentencing Guidelines; (6) any pertinent policy statements issued by the Sentencing Commission; (7) the need to avoid unwarranted sentence disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct; and (8) the need for restitution. 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a).

U.S. Probation officers routinely prepare presentence investigation reports to assist the court during sentencing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3552(a). However, § 3552(b) also authorizes the court to order a "study of the defendant" if it "desires more information than is otherwise available to it as a basis for determining the sentence to be imposed." 18 U.S.C. § 3552(b).

While, ordinarily, a § 3552(b) study "shall be conducted in the local community by qualified consultants, " the statute also authorizes the court to order that the study be done by the Bureau of Prisons upon the finding of "a compelling reason." 18 U.S.C. § 3552(b). In this case, the court finds that the fact that Elliott will already be committed to Bureau of Prisons custody for the purposes of a competency evaluation constitutes a compelling reason to order that the § 3552(b) study be conducted by the Bureau of Prisons as well. Moreover, Elliott himself has asked that the evaluation be done by the Bureau of Prisons.

* * *

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that the motion for a mental health evaluation (doc. no. 573) made by defendant ...


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