533 F.2d 879 (3rd Cir. 1976), 75-1523, United States v. Austin

Docket Nº:75-1523.
Citation:533 F.2d 879
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America v. Alonzo AUSTIN, Appellant.
Case Date:March 31, 1976
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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533 F.2d 879 (3rd Cir. 1976)



Alonzo AUSTIN, Appellant.

No. 75-1523.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 31, 1976

Argued Nov. 17, 1975.

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Roger A. Lowenstein, Federal Public Defender for the Dist. of N. J., Newark, N. J., for appellant.

Jonathan L. Goldstein, U. S. Atty., John J. Barry, Maryanne T. Desmond, Asst. U. S. Attys., Newark, N. J., for appellee.

Before VAN DUSEN, ADAMS and ROSENN, Circuit Judges.


VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

Defendant-appellant appeals from a ten-year imprisonment sentence of May 7, 1975, based on a jury verdict finding him guilty of attempting to take money of the National Newark and Essex Bank in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2113(a) on December 18, 1972. 1 Defendant complains of inadequate jury instructions bearing on his insanity defense. Having carefully considered defendant's contentions, we affirm the district court judgment and commitment order of May 7, 1975.

Although defendant does not challenge either that the attempt to rob the bank in question was made by defendant or the sufficiency of the evidence to support the verdict, a statement of the historical facts is helpful to an understanding of defendant's contentions and the trial court's rulings.

Defendant was a paranoid schizophrenic. He had stabbed a female (Doris Anthony) in October 1972, stabbed a male (Hooker) in December 1972, at times acted abnormally, and sometimes complained of headaches. Austin was overheard mumbling and talking to himself on various occasions. Lorraine Baskerville testified that during the winter of 1972 Austin was acting in an extremely bizarre fashion. 2 In March of 1973, approximately the same time as his arrest for the attempted bank robbery,

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Austin once again attempted to injure Hooker with a pipe. 3

Several times in 1972 defendant said he needed money and "I have got to get some money." 4 During the period of late 1972 defendant said to a friend, "I don't have any money, I am going to rob a bank" (N.T. 2.149 ff.). He planned ways of getting money and anticipated using a machine he had in his possession to print numbers on checks which he subsequently intended to cash and then leave the area quickly.

Prior to entering the bank, Austin put a bandage "on his face to hide the moles" (N.T. 2.66) so that he would not be recognized. A wool cap pulled down over his forehead covered another prominent mole. He directed the driver of a cab to take him to the National Newark and Essex Bank and to wait for him while he went in to cash a check.

Defendant walked into the bank carrying a bag. He presented a check to a teller at the money order window but, as she was not authorized to cash checks, she did not read it and told him to take the check to another teller. Austin walked to the window of Paul Pfeiffer and handed him the check. Pfeiffer read what was handprinted on the check ("I want $5000. I have a pistol, am desperate. Give me hundred, fifty, twenty dollar bills. Hurry"), looked at defendant and "figured he meant business" (G-1, 1.11). The handwritten portion of the check had been overwritten several times, making subsequent comparison of handwriting difficult, if not impossible. Surveillance photographs taken by a camera triggered by Pfeiffer indicated that defendant had likewise been careful to wear gloves, with the result that no latent fingerprints of value were later found on the check. Calmly, and acting like a regular customer cashing a check, Austin told Pfeiffer to hurry. Although defendant was not carrying a gun, he had his hand in his pocket to make the teller believe otherwise. Pfeiffer dropped to the floor and pushed a second button to set off the general alarm for the police. Austin turned around, walked unnoticed out of the bank, got into the waiting cab, and drove off. Later, when he saw his picture in the newspaper, he laughed and said, "They didn't catch me" (3.85-3.86).

On March 13, 1973, agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation went to 206 Howard Street, Newark, with a warrant for defendant's arrest. A woman let them into the apartment and the agents recognized Austin. He said his name was Nathaniel Harris and showed the agents identification in that name (2.43). He was transported to the FBI office after being informed that he was being charged with attempted bank robbery and signed an Advice of Rights form, which he acknowledged he understood. Initially Austin denied any knowledge of the attempted robbery, but when told that he had been identified by two bank employees and when confronted with the surveillance photograph taken at the bank during the attempt, he admitted the crime. He told the agents the details of the crime in question and the substance of his statement was reduced to writing. Defendant made and initialed a correction, wrote the last paragraph in his own handwriting and signed the statement. He appeared alert and perfectly normal, there being no indication that he was suffering from any mental disorder.

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On May 22, 1973, defendant entered a not guilty plea and, by district court order of April 4, 1974, the court found that Austin "is presently so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense" and committed him "to the custody of the Attorney General . . . pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4246 until said defendant is mentally competent to stand trial . . . ."

After a hearing on January 21, 1975, 5 the district court found on February 4, 1975, that "Austin is presently competent so as to be able to understand the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense" and the trial commenced on April 4, 1975.

Although the defense's experts 6 testified that on December 18, 1972, Austin did not have substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirement of the law proscribing attempted bank robbery due to mental defect or disease, the prosecution's experts testified, to the contrary, that he had such capacity to conform his conduct to the requirement of such law on that date. 7

Since the defendant bases this appeal on alleged inadequacies of the jury charge (page 32 of appellant's brief), we turn to the alleged errors in the charge.


Defendant first objects to a portion of the charge which was included at the request of the prosecution and concerned the relationship between the defendant's motive and intent in committing the crime. This portion of the charge is set out in the margin. 8 Prior to giving this part of the

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charge, the trial judge had made clear that in order to establish that defendant had committed the offense charged in the indictment, the prosecution was "required" to prove four essential elements of the crime, two of which were:

"Third: That the defendant acted wilfully.

"Fourth: Defendant was sane at the time of the offense."

The court pointed out that evidence of his mental state, both before and after December 18, 1972, was relevant and that "a criminal defendant who is insane at the time of the commission of the criminal offense lacks the requisite criminal intent to commit the crime." Concerning the issue of sanity 9 and intent, the court used this wording in the charge:

"There are two questions to be presented by (sic) you after hearing the testimony of the psychologists and psychiatrists, and other witnesses.

"First. Did the defendant suffer from a mental defect or disease on December 18, 1972. In deciding this question you may consider evidence of his mental state both before and after that time. If he did, then the next question is did that mental defect or disease so incapacitate him that he lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law against attempted bank robbery.

"Intent ordinarily may not be proved directly, because there is no way of fathoming or scrutinizing the operations of the human mind. But you may infer the defendant's intent from the surrounding circumstances. You may consider any statement made and done or omitted by the defendant, and all other facts and circumstances in evidence which indicate his state of mind. It is ordinarily reasonable to infer that a person intends the natural and probable consequences of acts knowingly done or knowingly omitted.

"I have said that a criminal defendant who is insane at the time of the commission of the criminal offense lacks the requisite criminal intent to commit the crime. You have also heard testimony concerning the defendant's motive in committing the crime."

It was at this place in the charge that the court explained the difference between intent and motive, using the language in note 8.

We note that the last underlined sentence of this portion of the charge objected to by defendants (see note 8) is modified by the final sentence quoted in the note 8 above, which makes clear that motive (delusional or otherwise) may be considered in determining "state of mind or intent."

We have concluded that there are several reasons why the giving of this instruction was not reversible error:

  1. The district court made clear that defendant's alleged, delusional motives were relevant in determining whether the defendant acted with the necessary wilfullness and intent. The trial judge directed the jury to consider all the evidence of defendant's mental state at several places in the charge. 10

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  2. The trial judge was entitled to make clear to the jury that the motives with which a defendant acts, even though of idealistic or compulsive 11 origin, do not constitute a defense to conduct determined by Congress to be criminal. See Standard Sanitary Mfg. Co. v. United States, 226 U.S. 20, 49, 33 S.Ct. 9, 15, 57 L.Ed. 107, 117 (1912); United States v...

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