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United States v. Malafronte

decided: February 28, 1966.


Waterman, Kaufman and Hays, Circuit Judges.*fn* Waterman, Circuit Judge (concurring in the result).

Author: Kaufman

KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge.

In this companion appeal to United States v. Freeman, 357 F.2d 606 (2d Cir. 1965), decided today, we are asked to overturn Albert Malafronte's conviction for selling narcotics in violation of 21 U.S.C. ยงยง 173, 174, on the same grounds as those urged in Freeman. Malafronte was tried by Judge Levet without a jury and was sentenced, as a second offender, to ten years' imprisonment. At trial, Malafronte defended on the ground that he was criminally incompetent at the time of the alleged offense and because the trial judge, in assessing this defense, applied a standard which we have today declared in Freeman to be outmoded and hence insufficient, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

On the evening of December 5, 1962, narcotics agent James Bailey, working in an undercover capacity, met Malafronte and co-defendant Joe Comager in front of the Senator Bar on 96th Street and Broadway. Malafronte asked Bailey if he was "a friend of Joe's" and upon Bailey's affirmative response, the two entered the bar. Inside, Bailey and Malafronte encountered co-defendant, Ralph Bracco, who, after several drinks, asked Bailey if he was "ready to do business." Bailey acknowledged his readiness, and Bracco suggested after some discussion that the sale take place elsewhere. Accordingly, Bailey left the bar and was driven by Comager to a deserted section of Harlem in the vicinity of 119th Street and the East Side Drive. Bailey and Comager waited in the parked car until Bracco and then Malafronte arrived. Malafronte entered the parked vehicle and handed Bailey a dark gray package sealed with Scotch tape for which Bailey paid Bracco $4000, stating that an additional $600 would be forthcoming in a few days. Chemical analysis established that the package, weighing approximately 215 grams, contained heroin.

Two days later, Bailey met Malafronte and Bracco at a Horn & Hardart's Restaurant on Lexington Avenue and 45th Street. After complaining about the poor quality of the drugs and his loss of money on the transaction, Bailey paid Malafronte the promised $600, but only after exacting from Bracco the assurance that "we will make it up for you on your next deal."*fn1

The main thrust of the defense to the government's case at trial consisted of an effort to establish that Malafronte, because of mental incompetency, was not responsible for his acts. In this case, as in Freeman, Dr. Herman C. Denber testified as an expert witness for the defense.*fn2 He stated that he had performed a psychiatric examination of Malafronte on January 23, 1964, at the Federal House of Detention in New York, for the purpose of determining whether the defendant was competent to stand trial. The Doctor's report*fn3 and testimony at trial revealed that Malafronte was a chronic alcoholic who had consumed two to four pints of rye whiskey daily for a period of fifteen years. As a result, the Doctor said, Malafronte had run the gamut from "passing out" to being hospitalized for delirium tremens, and had suffered several epileptic seizures.

Describing his interview with Malafronte, which lasted for little over one hour, the witness testified that Malafronte, who had an eighth grade education, spoke in a "low, monotonous voice," was rather depressed "and his whole general emotional response was markedly blunted." When Malafronte was asked by the Doctor about the alleged narcotics sale, he replied, "I don't remember selling anything to a federal agent. Most of the time I am drunk. I keep drinking all day long, morning and night. * * * I'd have to be out of my mind if I ever did a thing like that [sell narcotics]."

In summary, Dr. Denber noted that Malafronte was a chronic alcoholic whose heavy drinking had caused damage to the cells of the brain leading to difficulty in making moral judgments and an inability to understand the significance of his acts. In view of this condition, the Doctor stated, it was his opinion that at the time of the alleged sale, Malafronte was unable to distinguish right from wrong within the meaning of the M'Naghten test.*fn4

To establish the full extent of Malafronte's alcoholic habit,*fn5 the defendant's wife was called to testify. Mrs. Malafronte stated that she and the defendant had been married for five years and that for the last two or three years her husband's drinking had become "real bad. * * * All he wanted to do was to go in the bar and drink, that is all he wanted, liquor to drink." Moreover, Mrs. Malafronte said that she provided the sole support for her three children by a previous marriage and gave her husband some "drinking money" every day. When the defendant was not drinking, she noted, he spent most of his time in bed. Asked to describe what she had observed when her husband experienced a convulsive seizure, Mrs. Malafronte explained that, on one occasion, "He was shaking from head to toe, he was very white and shivering and came in with a pint of liquor and he drank it all and before you knew it he gave one loud scream and down he fell in like an epileptic fit."

The government relied upon the psychiatric testimony of Dr. George H. Hyslop to rebut Malafronte's defense of lack of responsibility. Dr. Hyslop had examined the defendant for approximately one hour during the week prior to testifying and had reviewed reports*fn6 of the defendant's condition. The witness stated that in his opinion Malafronte at the time of the alleged sale was able to distinguish right from wrong. Dr. Hyslop based this conclusion upon Malafronte's ability to engage in purposeful conduct during the transactions in the Senator Bar, East Harlem and the Horn & Hardart's Restaurant. The Doctor noted emphatically, "I don't care what background he [Malafronte] may have with respect to alcohol. There is nothing to indicate that he was drunk and confused and didn't know what he was doing. * * *"

While Dr. Hyslop acknowledged that Malafronte denied any recollection of the narcotics transaction, the government's expert was able to find no evidence of an inability to adjust to life, a characteristic of people suffering from mental disorders. Thus, Dr. Hyslop pointed out that Malafronte had been employed intermittently and possessed "normal sexual instincts." Moreover, the Doctor could find no sign of organic brain damage. He considered Malafronte to be alert and responsive to questions and generally aware of his condition; Malafronte had adjusted well to jail, the expert noted, and during recreation periods had made friends, played cards, viewed television and read newspapers. Finally, Dr. Hyslop observed that Malafronte possessed a psychopathic personality with criminal tendencies; but, the Doctor explained, this characterization meant simply that Malafronte failed to learn from experience and refused "to use good judgment with respect to his drinking habits in spite of knowing what [they are] costing him."

Because of the conflicting conclusions of the defense and government experts, the trial judge was confronted with the problem of determining which testimony to credit. Although noting that the defense medical witness was an "eminent psychiatrist," the District Judge felt constrained to agree with Dr. Hyslop's testimony and concluded that under M'Naghten, Malafronte had failed to raise a reasonable doubt of his competency and capacity to commit the crime with which he was charged.

We recognize here, as we did in Freeman, that the able District Judge cannot be faulted for relying on the M'Naghten Rules. This test ordinarily augmented by "irresistible impulse,"*fn7 had been commonly employed in the district courts to assess criminal responsibility. Since, as in Freeman, we are urged here to declare the M'Naghten Rules no longer the law to be applied in adjudicating criminal responsibility in this Circuit, our extentive discussion in United States v. Freeman, will suffice to explain our conclusions. We reverse and remand for a new trial in light of that opinion. In making this disposition, of course, we are not passing on the merits of the claims in this case.*fn8 Rather, as in Freeman, we are indicating that the test utilized by the court and the framework in which the psychiatrists testified were too restrictive in view of the modern scientific and legal standards to which we have today given recognition.

The Court is indebted to Theodore Krieger, Esq. who represented Malafronte as assigned counsel, for a ...

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