United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: COMPETENCY
C. Hall United States District Judge
August 5, 2013, a federal grand jury returned an Indictment
charging defendant Frank D. Gomez (“Gomez”) with
one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine
base; one count of possession with intent to distribute
marijuana; one count of possession of a firearm in connection
with a drug trafficking crime; and one count of possession of
a firearm by a convicted felon. See Indictment (Doc.
No. 11). Several months later, on November 14, 2013, Gomez,
through counsel, filed a Motion seeking evaluation of his
competency to stand trial pursuant to section 4241(a) of
title 18 of the United States Code, see Mot. for
Court-Ordered Evaluation of Def. to Determine Competency
(Doc. No. 30), which the court granted, see Order
for Temporary Commitment for Competency Evaluation and Report
(Doc. No. 33).
the court’s Order, Gomez was evaluated by psychologist
Dana Brauman (“Dr. Brauman”) at the Metropolitan
Correctional Center (MCC) in New York, New York. Dr. Brauman
ultimately concluded that, at the time of evaluation, Gomez
was not competent to stand trial. Upon receipt of Dr.
Brauman’s report (the “Brauman Report”),
the court scheduled a competency hearing, which was held on
March 21, 2014. See Minute Entry (Doc. No. 41).
After the hearing, the court found that Gomez was
“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 and to assist properly in his defense, ”
and therefore committed Gomez to the custody of the Attorney
General for a period of four months for hospitalization and
treatment. Order Committing Def. for Competency Evaluation
and Treatment (Doc. No. 42).
in custody, Gomez was evaluated by Dr. Christina Pietz
(“Dr. Pietz”), a certified forensic psychologist
working at the United States Medical Center for Federal
Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri (“MCFP
Springfield”), who prepared a report (the “Pietz
Report”) in which she opined that, at the time of her
evaluation, Gomez was competent to stand trial. After the
court received Dr. Pietz’s report, the court held a
second competency hearing at which both Dr. Brauman and Dr.
Pietz testified. See Hr’g Tr. at 2 (Doc. No.
61). Following the hearing, Gomez filed a Motion asking the
court to find him incompetent to stand trial or, in the
alternative, to continue the matter for 60 days to allow his
counsel “to receive additional requested records and
conduct an updated competency evaluation.” Def.’s
Post-Hr’g Mem. Re: Competency and Mot. for Continuance
at 1 (Doc. No. 62). The court granted Gomez’s Motion to
Continue over the government’s objection and scheduled
oral argument on Gomez’s Motion to be declared
incompetent. See Order (Doc. No. 71).
early February 2015, Gomez was evaluated by Tobias Wasser
(“Dr. Wasser”), a certified forensic psychiatrist
who subsequently prepared a report (the “Wasser
Report”) in which he opined that, at the time of his
evaluation, Gomez was “afflicted with a mental disease
or defect, which renders him unable to formulate and sustain
a rational understanding of the proceedings against him or to
assist in his defense.” Wasser Report at 21 (Doc. No.
78-1). After reviewing Dr. Wasser’s report and hearing
argument from the parties on Gomez’s Motion, the court
found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that Gomez was
“suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering
him mentally incompetent, ” and again ordered that
Gomez be committed to the custody of the Attorney General for
purposes of hospitalization and treatment for a period not to
exceed four months. Order Committing Def. for Competency
Evaluation and Treatment (Doc. No. 96).
accordance with the court’s Order, Gomez was again
committed to MCFP Springfield, where he was evaluated by Lea
Ann Preston Baecht (“Dr. Baecht”), a certified
forensic psychologist. Dr. Baecht prepared a report (the
“Baecht Report”) in which she opined that
“Gomez is competent to proceed with his legal
case” and that he “will remain competent for the
foreseeable future.” Baecht Report at 13
(Gov’t’s Ex. 4) (Doc. No. 142). After receiving
and reviewing Dr. Baecht’s Report, the court held a
competency hearing at which Dr. Pietz, Dr. Wasser, and Dr.
Baecht testified. See Minute Entry (Doc. No. 137)
(noting competency hearing held on April 20, 2016); Minute
Entry (Doc. No. 140) (noting continued competency hearing
held on May 18, 2016); Marked Exhibit & Witness List
(Doc. No. 142). The court subsequently held an oral argument
at which the parties set forth their respective positions
regarding Gomez’s competency. See Minute Entry
(Doc. No. 145).
reasons that follow, the court now finds that Gomez is
competent to stand trial on the charges pending against him.
right of a defendant who is incompetent not to stand trial on
criminal charges is secured by the Due Process Clause of the
United States Constitution. See United States v.
Kerr, 752 F.3d 206, 215 (2d Cir. 2014). This important
constitutional right is further “safeguarded by 18
U.S.C. § 4241, which requires the district court, upon
its own motion if necessary, to hold a competency hearing
‘if there is reasonable cause to believe that the
defendant may . . . [be] mentally incompetent.’”
Id. (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a)). A
defendant’s right to avoid standing trial while
incompetent “‘spans the duration of a criminal
proceeding, ’ including sentencing.” United
States v. Jackson, __ F. App’x __, 2016 WL 1743497
at *1 (2d Cir. May 3, 2016) (quoting United States v.
Arenburg, 605 F.3d 164, 168-69 (2d Cir. 2010) (per
court uses a familiar, two-pronged test to assess whether a
defendant is competent to stand trial, asking: (1)
“whether [the defendant] has sufficient present ability
to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of
rational understanding, ” and (2) “whether [the
defendant] has a rational as well as factual understanding of
the proceedings against him.” Dusky v. United
States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960). “In making a
determination of competency, the district court may rely on a
number of factors, including medical opinion and the
court’s observation of the defendant’s
comportment.” United States v. Nichols, 56
F.3d 403, 411 (2d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted).
federal statutes make clear that competency in federal cases
must be established by a preponderance of the evidence,
see 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), the relevant statutory
provisions do not allocate the burden of proof, and whether
the burden of establishing competency is on the defendant or
the government has not been squarely decided by the Second
Circuit or the Supreme Court, see United States v.
Garcia, 282 F. App’x 14, 17 (2d Cir. 2008)
(summary order) (“A court determines competency by a
preponderance of the evidence, although Garcia correctly
observes that the burden of proof in establishing competency
is undecided in this Circuit and by the Supreme
Court.”); Nichols, 56 F.3d at 410 (declining
to resolve the question of who bears the burden of
establishing competency); United States v.
Ditomasso, No. 14-cr-160 (SAS), 2015 WL 7758535 at *1
(S.D.N.Y. Dec. 1, 2015) (noting that neither the Second
Circuit nor the Supreme Court has decided who bears the
burden of establishing competency). Moreover, the Circuits that
have addressed the question of who bears the burden of
establishing competency are split. See Ditomasso,
2015 WL 7758535 at *1 (noting that the Fourth, Seventh,
Eighth, and Tenth Circuits place the burden of proof on the
defendant, while the Third, Fifth, and Ninth Circuits place
the burden of proof on the government).
a definitive answer on the question of who bears the burden
of establishing competency has not been set forth by the
Supreme Court, in Cooper v. Oklahoma the Supreme
Court noted, in dicta, that “Congress has directed that
the accused in a federal prosecution must prove
incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence, ”
Cooper, 517 U.S. 348, 362 (1996) (citing 18 U.S.C.
§ 4241) (emphasis added), which is consistent with the
general criminal law principal that “[a] defendant may
be presumed to be competent, ” United States v.
Pope, 146 F. App’x 536, 539 (2d Cir. 2005)
(summary order). Other courts in this Circuit have relied on
the foregoing to conclude that the burden of establishing
incompetence to stand trial rests with the defendant. See
Ditomasso, 2015 WL 7758535 at *1 n.9 (collecting cases).
Ultimately, however, whether the burden of establishing
competence is on the defendant or the government may
primarily be an academic concern; as the Second Circuit has
made clear, “the allocation of the burden of proof to
the defendant will affect competency determinations only in a
narrow class of cases where the evidence is in equipoise;
that is, where the evidence that a defendant is competent is
just as strong as the evidence that he is incompetent.”
Nichols, 56 F.3d at 410 (quoting Medina v.
California, 505 U.S. 437, 449 (1992)).
support of their respective positions on whether Gomez is
competent to stand trial on the charges against him, the
parties have submitted conflicting reports and testimony from
various mental health professionals. In the ensuing
discussion, the court summarizes the evidence submitted by
the parties, including the reports of Dr. Brauman, Dr. Pietz,
Dr. Wasser, and Dr. Baecht, the testimony of the latter three
individuals at the competency hearings on April 20, 2016, and
May 18, 2016, and the court’s own observations of
Gomez’s behavior during those hearings. The court then
analyzes this evidence, ultimately concluding that Gomez is
presently competent to stand trial.
noted earlier in this Ruling, three psychologists and one
psychiatrist have evaluated Gomez in connection with his
competency to stand trial on the federal charges pending
against him, often reaching conflicting conclusions on the
question of Gomez’s competency. The court will briefly
summarize each of these reports in turn.
Brauman’s report, which is dated February 21, 2014, is
based upon approximately 10 hours of evaluations conducted
over the course of a month in January and February 2014. As
part of Dr. Brauman’s evaluation, Gomez completed
numerous psychological tests. See Brauman Report at
1-2 (Gov’t’s Ex. 12) (Doc. No. 146). Dr. Brauman
also conducted phone interviews with Gomez’s lawyer,
counsel for the government, and Gomez’s mother. See
id. at 2. Finally, Dr. Brauman reviewed various legal
documents and medical records associated with Gomez. See
Brauman reported that, at the time of her evaluation, Gomez
had two prior psychiatric hospitalizations-“one at the
age of 12 due to his depressive symptoms and the other at the
age of 23, due to his substance abuse, ” id.
at 15-as well as a history of numerous periods of treatment
at hospital emergency departments, often for complaints that
appeared related to Gomez’s substance abuse,
id. at 7. The substance abuse in question is a
multi-year history of daily use of phencyclidine
(“PCP”) and marijuana; Gomez has
“maintained sobriety only while incarcerated.”