365 F.2d 920 (D.C. Cir. 1966), 19436, Hansford v. United States

Docket Nº:19436.
Citation:365 F.2d 920
Party Name:David L. HANSFORD, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.
Case Date:July 06, 1966
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

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365 F.2d 920 (D.C. Cir. 1966)

David L. HANSFORD, Appellant,


UNITED STATES of America, Appellee.

No. 19436.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.

July 6, 1966

Argued Feb. 9, 1966.

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Mr. Joseph F. Hennessey, Washington, D.C. (appointed by this court), for appellant.

Mr. Charles A. Mays, Asst. U.S. Atty., with whom Messrs. David G. Bress, U.S. Atty., and Frank Q. Nebeker and William C. Weitzel Jr., Asst. U.S. Atty., were on the brief, for appellee.

Before BAZELON, Chief Judge, and DANAHER and WRIGHT, Circuit Judges.

BAZELON, Chief Judge:

Appellant, after waiving jury trial, was convicted of a federal narcotics violation. His defenses were entrapment and insanity. After hearing extensive evidence on both defenses, the trial court resolved the factual issues against appellant and sentenced him to five years' imprisonment, 'strongly' recommending his assignment to the federal narcotics center at Lexington, Kentucky. 1 Appellant's principal contention on appeal is that entrapment was shown as a matter of law. We find no merit in this argument.

This case, however, presents yet another facet of the recurring problem of a defendant's competence to stand trial. Several months before trial, appellant, who had a life history of narcotic use and addiction, was committed to Saint Elizabeths Hospital for a 60-day mental examination. He suffered withdrawal symptoms when his narcotics supply was cut off at the beginning of his commitment. He was then diagnosed as 'without mental disorder and drug addiction in remission.' The Hospital, without referring to appellant's narcotic problem, reported that he was competent to stand trial, and the District Court so determined without conducting a hearing. Appellant was released on bail following his mental examination and soon resumed his use of narcotics. At trial he took the stand in his own defense and admitted that he had been using narcotics throughout the trial, even during the lunch recess that very day. The judge thereupon revoked appellant's bond and had the jail notified that he 'may by subject, possibly, to withdrawal symptoms.' The trial was

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concluded the next day without inquiry whether appellant was undergoing a withdrawal reaction. At no time either before or during trial did appellant request a hearing on his competence to stand trial.

Current medical knowledge indicates that use of narcotics often produces a psychological and physiological reaction known as an acute brain syndrome, which is a 'basic mental condition characteristic of diffuse impairment of brain tissue function.' The characteristic symptoms of the syndrome are impairment of orientation; impairment of memory; impairment of all intellectual functions including comprehension, calculation, knowledge and learning; impairment of judgment; and lability and shallowness of affect. 2 A court-appointed psychiatrist testified at trial that he had examined appellant on several occasions subsequent to his mental examination at Saint Elizabeths and found him under the influence of narcotics. During these interviews appellant gave 'fairly classical evasive answers * * *. When you start to press the patient a little, he began to get somewhat disturbed and he began to show very, very poor judgment.' He 'began to become much more disorganized * * * and he began to show memory defects, and these memory defects were picked up in an insidious manner.' The doctor concluded that appellant's use of narcotics had produced an acute brain syndrome, a mental disorder whose characteristic symptoms appellant exhibited. 'Although there was a general degree of orientation * * * where you have to use some type of memory recall in addition to some degree of orientation, the patient was grossly impaired.' This testimony was corroborated in many respects by the Government's expert witness who, although he had never examined appellant when under the influence of narcotics, stated generally that use of narcotics could and often did produce an acute brain syndrome and recited the classical symptoms of that disorder. 3

That a narcotics-induced acute brain syndrome may affect a defendant's competence to stand trial is readily apparent.

must be whether (the accused) * * * Court, the test of competency must be whether (the accused) * * 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. 4

Subsumed under this formulation is the requirement that the defendant's memory and intellectual abilities, which are crucial to the construction and presentation of his defense, must not be substantially impaired by mental disorder. 5 Yet it is these very mental faculties

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which the acute brain syndrome caused by narcotics most affects. 6

Subsequent to the trial in this case, the Supreme Court considered a somewhat similar problem in Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966). There a state-court criminal defendant never requested a competency hearing. At trial, however, the defendant presented an insanity defense, and produced several lay witnesses who testified to his various bizarre acts and irrational behavior. The Supreme Court first declared that trial and conviction of an incompetent defendant constituted a denial of a fair trial. The Court then ruled that evidence raising a substantial doubt regarding the defendant's competency imposed a constitutional duty on the trial court to conduct, on its own motion if the defendant failed to request it, an inquiry into the defendant's competence to stand trial. 7

We believe the record in this case demonstrates, as did that in Pate v. Robinson, a sufficient likelihood of incompetence to have imposed on the trial court a duty a inquire into appellant's competency. This is not, of course, to say that a defendant under the influence of narcotics is necessarily incompetent. Narcotic use does not invariably produce an acute brain syndrome, nor is every syndrome of the same degree of severity. The effects of narcotic use will vary depending on the amount of drugs taken, the degree of tolerance developed by the individual, and the idiosyncratic reaction of the person to the drugs. For this very reason, only by a hearing can it be determined whether any particular defendant is incompetent because of his use of drugs. 8

We also believe that a competency hearing is constitutionally required if it appears that a defendant may be suffering from withdrawal symptoms during trial. Withdrawal is a recognized medical illness. Its effects typically include various physical reactions such as perspiration, waves of gooseflesh, muscle twitch, body aches, hot and

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cold flashes, restlessness, sleeplessness, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The subject is in extreme physical misery. He may try to withdraw within himself, or may exhibit highly individualized patterns of anxious and irrational behavior, such as becoming quite antagonistic, threatening suicide, assuming bizarre postures, or exaggerating his distress in dramatic ways, often as a purposive attempt to obtain drugs. 9 These physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal could very well render a defendant incompetent to stand trial. He may be physically incapacitated from following the evidence or from discussing it with counsel, or he may be so preoccupied with his real or imagined suffering as to lose all interest in his case and desire only that it end as quickly as possible. Inquiry and a determination that the defendant is in fact competent therefore seems a prerequisite to the conduct or continuation of a fair trial.

The trial judge in this case, having observed appellant, may have thought him competent. But it plainly appears from Pate v. Robinson that appellant's apparent alertness and understanding during trial cannot wipe out the uncontradicted testimony that his memory and other intellectual functions became severely impaired when he was under the influence of narcotics. While his demeanor at trial may be a relevant factor, it is by no means the only one and it cannot obviate the need for a hearing on his competence. 10 This reasoning applies with particular force to a defendant who may be under the influence of narcotics, since the symptoms and effects of an acute brain syndrome produced by narcotics will often not be apparent to a lay observer, even a judge, but only to an expert. Even then a careful examination would seem necessary to determine the extent to which the defendant's memory and other rational faculties have been impaired by the drugs. 11

Nor can the District Court's previous determination of competency relieve the trial court of its constitutional duty to conduct an inquiry at the time of the trial. In Pouncey v. United States, 12nthe defendant had been found

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competent by the District Court following examination at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, but his behavior at trial cast doubt on that finding. We there stated that

(A) judge's responsibility to guard against the possibility that an accused person may have become incompetent does not end when the trial begins. A hospital report is only a prediction that when the accused is tried he will be able to participate adequately in the proceedings. Later developments may throw doubt on the prediction, particularly when, as in this case, the report does not show the hospital's understanding of 'competence', the tests it employed, or the certainty of its diagnosis. 13

We therefore held that, despite the earlier finding of competency, the trial court had erred by failing to inquire further at the time of the trial.

In the present...

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