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United States v. McNeal

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

April 9, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
ELDRICK DEON McNEAL

          OPINION AND ORDER

          MYRON H. THOMPSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case is once again before the court on the question whether defendant Eldrick Deon McNeal has the mental capacity to stand trial--specifically, whether 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(a).

         The government's and McNeal's experts agreed that McNeal is currently incompetent to stand trial. Based on the evidence in the record and the testimony presented at a competency hearing held on March 29, 2019, the court concludes by a preponderance of the evidence that McNeal is once again not mentally competent. The court will therefore recommit him to the custody of the United States Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for no longer than 120 days, beginning on March 29, 2019, “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.” 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On multiple occasions in this case, McNeal was found incompetent to stand trial and sent to a BOP medical center for competency restoration therapy. See United States v. McNeal, No. 2:15cr199-MHT, 2018 WL 3023092 (M.D. Ala. June 18, 2018) (Thompson, J.); United States v. McNeal, No. 2:15cr199-MHT, 2017 WL 2399578 (M.D. Ala. June 2, 2017) (Thompson, J.); United States v. McNeal, No. 2:15cr199-MHT, 2016 WL 756570 (M.D. Ala. Feb. 26, 2016) (Thompson, J.).

         Most recently in this case, on June 18, 2018, the court found McNeal incompetent and recommitted him to a BOP medical facility in Butner, North Carolina for restoration therapy. In January 2019, a Butner clinician, Dr. Adeirdre Stribling Riley, submitted a report to the court concluding that McNeal met diagnostic criteria for antisocial personality disorder; borderline intellectual functioning; adjustment disorder with anxiety; and several substance abuse disorders, but that he was competent to stand trial. See Forensic Evaluation (doc. no. 207) at 11, 14. The court set a restoration hearing for February 22 but, due to logistical problems, had to continue the hearing to March 29.

         However, in the meantime, defense counsel informed the court that his expert, psychiatrist Dr. Hans Stelmach, had evaluated McNeal on February 20 and concluded that he suffered from schizoaffective disorder and was currently incompetent to stand trial. See Psychiatric Evaluation (doc. no. 235-1) at 6-7. On March 25, BOP forensic psychologist Stribling Riley informed the government that McNeal, as a result of medication noncompliance, was no longer competent and was now presenting as symptomatic. On March 28, she submitted a psychiatric report to that effect. See Forensic Evaluation (doc. no. 241) at 11. The court held a competency hearing on March 29, during which Dr. Stribling Riley testified that McNeal is currently not competent to proceed due to noncompliance with his psychotropic medication regimen. She testified, however, that, he had recently complied with two administrations of his medication, and that, according to McNeal's BOP psychiatrist, McNeal needs to take a therapeutic level of medication for about two to three months before significant improvement is made. Dr. Stribling Riley requested 120 days for restoration efforts, and the court orally granted her request.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “[I]f there is reasonable cause to believe” that a defendant may currently be mentally incompetent to stand trial, a court may, upon motion of a party or sua sponte, order a competency hearing. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). “If, after the hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant 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, the court shall commit the defendant to the custody of the Attorney General, ” who shall hospitalize the defendant for treatment. Id. § 4241(d). An initial treatment period may last “for such a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, as is necessary 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.” Id. § 4241(d)(1).

         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 the defendant does, then the court 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). Bundy, 850 F.2d at 1408. 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.” Dusky, 362 U.S. at 402.

         The law is unsettled on which party bears the burden of proof as to competency. See United States v. Tatum, No. 2:18cr109-MHT, 2019 WL 150551, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 4, 2019) (Thompson, J.). Nonetheless, the court need not resolve this open question if the outcome would be the same regardless. See id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Based on Dr. Stribling Riley's forensic report of March 28, 2019; Dr. Stelmach's psychiatric evaluation of February 20; the representations made by Dr. Stribling Riley during the hearing on March 29; and the evidence in the record in this case regarding McNeal's history of mental incompetency and decompensations, the court concludes that McNeal is again incompetent to proceed at this time.

         A. Clinically ...


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