Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 3:11-cr-00058-CAR-CHW-2.
For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Michelle Lee Schieber, Danial Edward Bennett, Michael J. Moore, U.S. Attorney, Sharon Ratley, Bernard Snell, Graham A. Thorpe, U.S. Attorney's Office, Macon, GA.
For Andrew Wingo, Defendant - Appellant: Martin J. Vogelbaum, Jared Scott Westbroek, Cynthia W. Roseberry, Federal Public Defender's Office, Macon, GA.
Before MARCUS and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges, and FRIEDMAN,[*] District Judge.
Sometimes running a district court can be like a high-wire balancing act. But when it comes to ensuring the competence of defendants when they go to trial or plead guilty, the court takes on the role of a safety net.
Our criminal-justice system depends on the exercise of, or knowing and intelligent waivers of, constitutional rights. But to engage in these activities, a defendant must first and necessarily have the abilities to understand the proceedings and to assist counsel. Because competence is the base upon which other constitutional rights balance, due process and Section 4241(a) of Title 18 of the United States Code demand that a hearing on a defendant's competence be held whenever reasonable cause exists to believe that a defendant may not be competent to proceed to trial or to enter a guilty plea.
Here, no hearing occurred, despite evidence creating reasonable cause to believe that Appellant Andrew Wingo might not have been competent to proceed. We therefore hold that the district court did not satisfy its duty under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). We remand this case to the district court so that it can determine whether Wingo's competency at the time of his guilty plea can be evaluated nunc pro tunc, and if so, for an assessment of his competency at the time of his guilty plea and sentencing. If Wingo is determined to have been incompetent, or if a nunc pro tunc evaluation cannot be made, Wingo's conviction and sentence must be vacated, subject to the government's right to try him should he become competent. On the other hand, if Wingo is determined to have been competent, his conviction and sentence must be affirmed.
In October 2007, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (" FBI" ) began investigating Wingo, his parents, and a business associate regarding a fraud and money-laundering scheme thought to have begun in 2003, stemming from their operation of a charitable not-for-profit organization, Angel Food Ministries (" AFM" ). The investigation concluded that Wingo engaged in various schemes to fraudulently divert monies ...