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United States v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama

February 19, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
HOWARD JAMES SMITH

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Howard James Smith has been indicted on one count of conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances; four counts of possession with intent to distribute controlled substances; three counts of possession of a firearm during and in relation to a drug-trafficking crime; and three counts of possession of a firearm as a felon. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(1) & 324(c)(1)(A)(i); 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1) & 846. Defense counsel has filed a motion for Smith to receive a mental-health evaluation by the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). A hearing was held on the motion on February 12, 2019. The motion, which is unopposed by the government, will be granted as outlined below.

         A.

         Defense counsel requested a competency evaluation based on concerns about Smith's ability to communicate with him; his discussions with Smith's mental-health providers; a review of Smith's mental-health records; and the medication Smith has been prescribed and administered.

         A court may order a competency evaluation on a party's motion, or on the court's own motion, “at any time after the commencement of a prosecution for an offense and prior to the sentencing of the defendant, ” 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.” 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). 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 BOP facility for this competency examination. See §§ 4241(b), 4247(b).

         In this case, the court finds that there is reason to believe that Smith may not be competent to stand trial. The court will, therefore, order him to be evaluated at a BOP facility, pursuant to §§ 4241(b) and 4247(b). The examination must be completed within a reasonable period of time, not to exceed 30 days; the director of the facility to which Smith is committed may apply for a reasonable extension, not to exceed 15 days. See § 4247(b). Once the examination is complete, the examiner will prepare a psychological report and file this report with the court and with counsel, pursuant to § 4247. This report should include a description of the psychological and medical tests administered and their results; the examiner's findings, diagnosis, and prognosis of Smith's mental condition; and the examiner's opinions as to whether, given the demands that may be made on Smith throughout this prosecution, Smith may currently 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.” § 4241(a).

         B.

         If, after this evaluation, the court were to find that Smith is incompetent to stand trial, the court would then be required to commit him again to the custody of the Attorney General, and again he would be hospitalized for treatment in a suitable facility in order to determine whether there is a substantial probability that, in the foreseeable future, he will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1). To avoid the further delay and inconvenience to the parties and to the court of another potential commitment, including the extra time required to transport Smith from the BOP back to this district and then back to the BOP again, the court will order that, when the BOP examiner conducts the competency evaluation, it should, if possible and practicable, simultaneously conduct a restoration evaluation pursuant to § 4241(d)(1) to determine if there is a substantial probability that, in the foreseeable future, Smith will regain competency.

         C.

         At the request of defense counsel at the February 12 hearing and without objection from the government, the court finds that the BOP should, when it conducts the competency and restoration evaluations, simultaneously conduct, if possible and practicable, an evaluation to determine whether Smith was insane at the time of the charged offenses pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4242 and Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 12.2. See United States v. Riley, 2018 WL 5660092, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Oct. 31, 2018) (Thompson, J.) (ordering psychological examination to determine insanity at the time of the offense pursuant to court's inherent powers and in absence of defense notice pursuant to Rule 12.2 and government motion under § 4242(a), albeit with agreement of parties).

         D.

         The court finds that, should Smith be found competent and be convicted, his mental health will need to be evaluated for purposes of sentencing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3552(b). Therefore, defense counsel requested, and the court finds, that the BOP should conduct, if possible and practicable, a sentencing study while Smith is at the BOP facility for his competency, restoration, and insanity evaluations. Such evaluations are necessary to aid the court in fashioning an appropriate sentence, by helping to determine (1) how a defendant's mental disorder, substance-abuse disorder, and/or cognitive deficiency may have affected his or her culpability for the offense conduct; and (2) what type of treatment, if any, the defendant should receive during potential incarceration and supervised release. See United States v. Mosley, 277 F.Supp.3d 1294 (M.D. Ala.) (Thompson, J.). By “culpability” the court means not only whether a defendant had a legal defense such as insanity, or whether a defendant's action was not “voluntary” or committed with the requisite mens rea; rather, the court means “culpability” to include whether, if any, a mental disorder, substance-abuse disorder, and/or cognitive deficiency may have affected or driven a defendant's conduct, and as a result possibly constitutes mitigation. Id.

         The mental-health recommendation should, therefore, focus on these overlapping issues of culpability and treatment: the role, if any, defendant's mental disorder, substance-abuse disorder, and/or cognitive deficiency played in his or her charged conduct, and what treatment is recommended for defendant's disorders in light of his or her individual characteristics and history. And again, by treatment, the court means not only treatment, and other supportive services, to be provided to him while on supervised release but also what specific BOP programs are recommended, and why, in the event that he is incarcerated for an extended periodoftime.See https://www.bop.gov/inmates/custodyandcare/docs/20170 914BOPNationalProgramCatalog.pdf (describing BOP Programs).

         18 U.S.C. § 3552(b) authorizes the court to order that the study be done by the BOP upon the finding of a “compelling reason” or where there are no adequate professional resources available in the local community to perform the study. Here, the court is already seeking a comprehensive, longitudinal evaluation of Smith's mental health. The court finds that such an extended and comprehensive evaluation is simply not feasible in a jail environment, such as where Smith is housed, given the restrictions on access to prisoners. Furthermore, in this case, ...


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