278 F.3d 1245 (11th Cir. 2002), 00-11105, Wright v Secretary for the Dept. of Corrections

Docket Nº:00-11105
Citation:278 F.3d 1245
Party Name:JOHN ANGUS WRIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant, v. SECRETARY FOR THE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Michael W. Moore, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:January 10, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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278 F.3d 1245 (11th Cir. 2002)

JOHN ANGUS WRIGHT, Petitioner-Appellant,



No. 00-11105

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

January 10, 2002

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Before EDMONDSON and CARNES, Circuit Judges, and MUSGRAVE1, Judge.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

Fifteen and a half years ago, John Angus Wright robbed a bank in Stuart, Florida. While he and his confederates in the crime were fleeing, one of them fired shots at an innocent civilian. As a result of his criminal activity on that day, Wright was later convicted in state court of two counts of armed robbery and one count of third degree felony murder, and he was sentenced to consecutive life sentences for the robberies and to five years on the attempted murder.

During the intervening years, Wright's efforts to have his conviction and sentence set aside in the courts of Florida have proved unavailing. His attempt to gain federal habeas relief has been rebuffed by the district court, and this is the appellate part of that proceeding. The case comes to us on a certificate of appealability presenting two issues: 1) whether the trial court's failure to conduct a competency hearing violated Wright's Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process rights; and 2) whether Wright's trial without a determination of his competency to stand trial violated his Sixth or Fourteenth Amendment rights. For reasons we will discuss, we answer both of those questions (after reformulating the second one) in the negative and affirm the district court's judgment.



On August 8, 1986, John Angus Wright, George Jackson, and Lisa Morrison drove to a gun store in Stuart, Florida, where Wright and Morrison purchased a handgun. Wright himself paid for the weapon with cash. Later that day, Wright and Jackson entered a bank in the same town while Morrison waited outside in the car. Inside the bank, Wright, who was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, held the tellers at gunpoint with his newly acquired weapon and ordered them to give him money. He said: "Be calm, this is a robbery, give me all your money. I want hundreds and fifties." After they had collected cash from the tellers, Wright and Jackson left the bank and fled the scene in the getaway car driven by Morrison. While fleeing, one or both of the men fired shots at a truck whose driver attempted to block the parking lot exit. Law enforcement officers pursued and arrested Wright, Jackson, and Morrison that same day.


In 1969, a decade and a half before the crime and trial in this case, Wright had Page 1249

been charged with various offenses including robbery and carrying a concealed weapon. Before he could be tried on those charges, however, he was committed to South Florida State Hospital, where he was diagnosed as psychotic and suffering from schizophrenia, and was found incompetent to stand trial. In May of 1970, a doctor at South Florida State Hospital concluded that Wright's schizophrenia was in remission and that he was now "sane, knows the difference between right and wrong, understands the nature of the charges and can assist counsel in his defense." The hospital recommended that Wright continue taking anti-psychotic medications.

Two other mental health experts evaluated Wright in June of 1970 and agreed that although he had been unable to distinguish between right and wrong or appreciate the consequences of his acts at the time of the offenses in September of 1969, he was at the time of their evaluations competent to stand trial. One of those experts recommended that Wright continue his medication, and both of them said that Wright should continue psychiatric treatment on a regular basis.

As a result of the experts concluding that Wright was competent to stand trial, he was tried on a charge of grand larceny but on July 1, 1970 was found not guilty by reason of insanity on that charge. After that adjudication but before the trial in this case, Wright was found guilty of robbery approximately seven different times in seven different cases. The record does not indicate whether his competency or sanity was questioned on any of those occasions.

Before the trial that led to the present proceeding began on January 19, 1987, defense counsel moved for appointment of a mental health expert to determine Wright's insanity at the time of the offense, and the trial court granted the motion. On January 15, 1987, defense counsel filed a notice of intent to rely upon the insanity defense. On that same day, defense counsel orally moved for the appointment of two additional experts to determine Wright's competence to stand trial and to further develop his insanity defense, but the trial court denied that motion.

Defense counsel never requested that the trial court conduct a hearing on the issue of whether Wright was mentally competent to stand trial. During the trial, defense counsel did present testimony on the issue of Wright's sanity at the time of the crime which had occurred five months before trial. Fred J. Petrilla, Jr., Ph.D., a psychologist who interviewed Wright on December 8, 1986, approximately five weeks before trial, testified that Wright was a paranoid schizophrenic, was clinically depressed, had a "great deal of psychopathy," and suffered from delusions of grandeur. He further testified that Wright's schizophrenia was chronic and recurrent, and that he had a need for treatment and continued care. Additionally, Dr. Petrilla testified that Wright, at the time of the offense, was "actively psychotic," had no appreciation for the consequences of his action, and was unable to distinguish between right and wrong.

Dr. Petrilla also informed the court and jury of Wright's chronic drug and alcohol abuse, including his abuse of the drug LSD, since the age of twelve. He testified about Wright's family history of severe mental illness, including his mother's diagnosis of and hospitalization for schizophrenia and the psychological care his sister had received. Finally, Dr. Petrilla noted Wright's flat affect, lack of eye contact, and twitching leg during his pretrial interview five weeks before, and he remarked on Wright's continued flat affect at trial. Page 1250

However, Dr. Petrilla also testified that during his interview Wright had given responsive answers to questions concerning his name, address, and "different things of those lines," and that Wright had told him that he entered the bank with another man and then robbed it. Dr. Petrilla did not express an opinion about whether Wright was competent to stand trial.

The court and jury also heard testimony from Dr. Sanford Jacobson, a psychiatrist who in 1969 had diagnosed Wright with chronic and recurrent paranoid schizophrenia and had found him to be insane at the time of the events leading to his arrest and incarceration that year in Dade County, Florida. Jacobson testified to his recommendation in 1969 that Wright be committed to a state facility for long-term hospitalization and treatment. He also testified, however, that he had not seen Wright in seventeen years and was not able to render any opinion as to Wright's current mental health.

The trial court admitted into evidence the 1970 report of Carl Marlowe, Jr., a psychiatrist who, after examining Wright in order to determine his sanity and competency to stand trial in 1970, found that Wright had a schizophrenic personality. Marlowe's report stated that Wright had been unable to distinguish between right and wrong and to know the nature and consequences of his acts at that time, but that he possessed "the capacity to answer charges against him, aid in his own defense and stand trial." In other words, it had been Dr. Marlowe's opinion that at the time Wright stood trial in 1970 he was mentally competent to do so. His report had recommended Wright's continued psychiatric treatment, supervision, and medication on a regular basis.

During the trial in this case, defense counsel informed the trial court of the prior court proceedings in which Wright had been found incompetent to stand trial and not guilty by reason of insanity. While defense counsel presented the court with several judgments, the court stated that they all appeared to be related to the same case, at least one aspect of which resulted in Wright's 1970 acquittal by reason of insanity on grand larceny charges. The court admitted into evidence for the jury's consideration that judgment of acquittal by reason of insanity but not the other judgments. Although not admitted into evidence for the jury to hear, records of several of Wright's convictions occurring after he had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1970 were provided to the court. Those records showed that Wright had been found guilty of robbery approximately seven times in seven different cases. There is nothing before us to suggest that there was any indication in the records that the trial court saw that Wright's competency to stand trial had ever been questioned on those occasions.

In the State's rebuttal case, the court and the jury heard testimony from Lieutenant Art Jackson, supervisor of the maximum security section of the Martin County Jail. Jackson testified that from five days after Wright's arrest on August 8, 1986 until the trial began on January 19, 1987, he had escorted Wright every Wednesday night to the law library located at the courthouse, where he saw Wright advising other inmates, selecting law books for them, and discussing legal motions with them. He told how, during that same five-month period, he had seen Wright talk to guards and other inmates, watch TV, read books,...

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