United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
H. THOMPSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case is before the court on the question whether defendant
Antonio Oscar Tatum is mentally competent to stand trial. The
government's and Tatum's experts disagreed about
whether Tatum is competent. Tatum's expert reported in
May 2018 that he was incompetent, but offered no opinion
about his competency as of December 21, 2018, when the court
held the competency hearing. By contrast, a forensic
psychologist for the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) opined both in a
September 2018 report and at the December 21 hearing that
Tatum is competent to proceed. For the reasons outlined
below, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence
that Tatum is competent to stand trial.
March 2018, Tatum was indicted on one count of theft of a
firearm from a federal firearms licensee, in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 922(u), and one count of being a felon in
possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §
922(g)(1). The government alleges that he stole four rifles
from a gun shop in Montgomery, Alabama.
8, 2018, Tatum filed a motion for a competency hearing, which
attached a forensic psychological evaluation by Dr. David C.
Ghostley addressing Tatum's competency to stand trial.
See Ghostley Report (doc. no. 36-2). As detailed
below, Dr. Ghostley found that Tatum was not currently
competent to stand trial and would require an estimated three
months to “stabiliz[e].” Id. at 5. The
government subsequently filed a motion for a mental-health
evaluation and treatment, in which it requested that the
court enter an order finding Tatum incompetent, and remove
him to BOP custody for restoration, and to determine whether
there was a substantial probability that he would attain
capacity. See Government Motion (doc. no. 45) at
1-2. The magistrate judge granted the government's motion
to the extent that he committed Tatum to BOP custody
“for a psychiatric and/or psychological examination to
determine his competency” as well as whether he was
insane at the time of the alleged offense. Commitment Order
(doc. no. 48). On September 7, 2018, the BOP filed a forensic
evaluation by Dr. Jessica Micono concluding that Tatum was
currently competent to stand trial. See BOP Report
(doc. no. 55) at 19.
December 21, 2018, this court held a competency hearing,
where it heard testimony from both Dr. Ghostley and Dr.
defendant is not fit to stand trial if he is “presently
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.” 18
U.S.C. § 4241(d). Courts apply a two-part test to
determine competency. See Bundy v. Dugger, 850 F.2d
1402, 1408 (11th Cir. 1988). First the district court
determines whether “the defendant suffer[s] from a
clinically recognized disorder.” Id. If he
does, the court then determines whether “that disorder
render[s] the defendant incompetent under” the test for
incompetency established by the Supreme Court in Dusky v.
United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960). Id.
The Dusky test asks whether the defendant “has
sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a
reasonable degree of rational understanding--and whether he
has a rational as well as factual understanding of the
proceedings against him.” 362 U.S. at 402.
is unsettled on which party bears the burden of proof as to
competency. See United States v. Merriweather, 921
F.Supp.2d 1265, 1290 (N.D. Ala. 2013) (Proctor, J.) (stating
that § 4241 “is silent on this point, noting only
that the court must find by a preponderance of the evidence
that a defendant is incompetent to stand trial”).
Nonetheless, this “court need not resolve” this
open question, “for the outcome here would be the same
regardless”: Tatum is competent to proceed. United
States v. Brooks, 2010 WL 5169074, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Dec.
14, 2010) (Thompson, J.).
Clinically Recognized Disorder
experts provided conflicting diagnoses as to whether Tatum
suffers from a “clinically recognized disorder, ”
the first prong of the two-part competency assessment.
Bundy, 850 F.2d at 1408. Dr. Ghostley, Tatum's
expert, reported that Tatum “presented with significant
signs and symptoms of mental illness” and noted a
“diagnostic impression” of schizophrenia,
paranoid type, and unspecified mood disorder. Ghostley Report
(doc. no. 36-2) at 4. Dr. Ghostley also reported several
prior mental-health diagnoses. Specifically, when admitted to
Crossbridge Behavioral Health in 2014, Tatum was diagnosed
with paranoid schizophrenia and anxiety; in February 2018, he
was again admitted to Crossbridge and diagnosed with
antisocial personality disorder, bipolar disorder,
longstanding depression, and impulse control personality
disorder with paranoid delusions; and, in March 2018, a
clinician at Montgomery Mental Health diagnosed him with
schizophrenia, paranoid type. See Id. at 3.
other hand, Dr. Micono, the BOP evaluator, gave Tatum a DSM-5
diagnosis of “malingering, ” meaning that he was
intentionally producing false or grossly exaggerated
psychological symptoms. BOP Report (doc. no. 55) at 14. She
further found that it was not appropriate to diagnose Tatum
with a “psychotic disorder, such as
Schizophrenia.” Id. at 17. While Dr. Micono
found some evidence for consideration of a diagnosis of
antisocial personality disorder, it was not enough evidence
to confirm or exclude the diagnosis. Id. at 15-16.
Even if Tatum were diagnosed with antisocial personality
disorder, Dr. Micono reported, the diagnosis would not impact
his competency to proceed. Id. at 16.
the court need not resolve whether Tatum suffers from a
“clinically recognized disorder, ” because the
court finds that he is competent under the second prong of
the competency test, see Bundy, 850 F.2d at 1408,
that is, the standard for competency set forth in
Dusky, 362 U.S. at 402.