983 F.2d 1413 (7th Cir. 1993), 91-2576, United States v. Watkins

Docket Nº:91-2576.
Citation:983 F.2d 1413
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Harry R. WATKINS, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:January 19, 1993
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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983 F.2d 1413 (7th Cir. 1993)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Harry R. WATKINS, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 91-2576.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

January 19, 1993

Argued May 29, 1992.

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James A. Shapiro, Asst. U.S. Atty. (argued), Office of the U.S. Atty., Crim. Div. and Barry R. Elden, Asst. U.S. Atty., Office of the U.S. Atty., Crim. Receiving, Appellate Div., Chicago, IL, for plaintiff-appellee.

Standish E. Willis and Judith A. Scully (argued), Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellant.

Before CUDAHY, EASTERBROOK, and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

On April 23, 1991, Harry Watkins' trial on three counts related to threatening telephone calls to equal employment opportunity personnel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was set to begin. Prior to jury selection, the district court excluded Mr. Watkins from the courtroom. The court found that he had knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to be present during trial. The trial proceeded in his absence, and Mr. Watkins was convicted. He now appeals, and we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for new trial.



After dismissal from his position as a taxpayer service representative for the IRS in Chicago, Mr. Watkins filed a complaint with the equal employment office of the IRS, which found that his discharge had not been racially motivated. Dissatisfied with this determination, Mr. Watkins began to telephone the IRS Complaint Center and requested that his concerns be addressed by a black equal employment opportunity specialist, a black hearing examiner, and a black court reporter. His calls were accompanied by vile language, and he was subsequently charged with three counts of making threatening telephone calls to IRS employees. See 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B).

On March 4, 1991, on the defendant's motion, the district court ordered a psychiatric evaluation to assess Mr. Watkins' competency to stand trial. When defense counsel advised the court that it would assert that Mr. Watkins did not have the requisite mens rea to commit the offense charged, the prosecution requested another psychiatric examination to determine Mr. Watkins' mental state at the time of the alleged offenses. On April 15, defense counsel informed the government that, while the defense would not present an insanity defense, it would call the psychologist as an expert witness to support the argument that Mr. Watkins lacked the requisite mens rea. The government's motion in limine to exclude such evidence was denied at an evidentiary hearing at which Mr. Watkins was present. During the course of that hearing, the examining psychologist, Dr. Daniel Foster, testified that Mr. Watkins was competent to stand trial and that he suffered from a paranoid personality disorder. Specifically, Dr. Foster remarked,

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when asked if Mr. Watkins was psychotic, that "[w]ith a paranoid personality disorder you can have psychotic episodes, but they won't be of sufficient duration that you would necessarily even treat him with an antipsychotic medication." Hearing at 14. Dr. Foster explained that this condition is characterized by "a reflexive response when they feel threatened to try to run people off, to get people away from them, to try to control the situation." Id. at 18. He also testified that "[a]nger is an ongoing reflection of his condition." Id. at 23. In addition, Dr. Foster's testimony indicated that, at the time of the charged incidents, Mr. Watkins had "at least a marginal degree of self-control over criminal behavior ... [and that his behavior] implies at least a marginal degree of volitional control and awareness of the potential illegality of his act." Id. at 35.

Mr. Watkins was incarcerated at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) prior to trial. On the day jury selection was to begin, April 23, 1991, he refused to dress for court or willingly to leave his cell. He was removed forcibly from the cell and transferred to the courthouse. Prior to Mr. Watkins' arrival in court, the district court, which had been apprised informally of Mr. Watkins' behavior at the MCC, stated to Mr. Watkins' counsel:

First he said he wouldn't come to court, then he said he would come to court only if he were carried, and I view this conduct as inexcusable, Mr. Willis.

. . . . .

I want you to convey that to your client. I think he is willfully, willfully trying to obstruct this trial. I think that he is putting a terrible burden on the Marshal's Office, and he is aware of it.... [I]t is clear that [Mr. Watkins] very well knows what is going on here and how he can obstruct these proceedings.

Tr. at 2-3. The court then raised the possibility of waiver:

I am now looking into what constitutes waiver to be present at trial. If you have any cases either of you would like to bring to my attention as to at what point Mr. Watkins waives his right to be present in his trial--maybe he would just as soon waive that right himself, I don't know--but by his conduct it certainly appears that he is working toward that aim.

Tr. at 3.

In the exchange that followed, both counsel for the government and counsel for the defendant informed the court that they had been apprised of certain events in the MCC that had resulted in the defendant's being placed on suicide watch by the officials of the MCC. Government counsel informed the court that, because the defendant had attempted to hang himself with a shirt, he had been manacled to the lower bar of his cell. Defense counsel reported that the defendant had related two "suicidal episodes." Tr. at 4. Defense counsel also told the court that Mr. Watkins had refused to eat for three days despite counsel's admonition that he would need his strength in order to assist in his defense. The court then said to Mr. Watkins' counsel: "I would suggest that you consult with him when he arrives and determine whether or not he wishes to waive his presence at trial. He is certainly welcome to remain at the MCC during this trial, if that's his desire." Tr. at 5. The court terminated the proceedings by noting that "the jury has been waiting since 9:00 o'clock. That is inexcusable." Tr. at 5. 1

Immediately after these remarks, court was adjourned (9:50 a.m.) and then reconvened at 10:12 a.m. with Mr. Watkins present. The colloquy then proceeded as follows:

THE COURT: All right, the record should reflect that the defendant is present in court but not cooperating with the Court, nor did he stand when asked to rise by the clerk.

MR. WILLIS: He is not, he is not communicating at this point, the record should also reflect that.

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MR. WILLIS: I don't know if he knows what's going on.

THE COURT: Well, I certainly think, based on the testimony of the psychologist yesterday and his own self-serving conduct, he knows well what's going on, Mr. Willis, and this is an intentional effort to obstruct this trial.

I find that the defendant's lack of cooperation with the U.S. Marshal, and his statement to the U.S. Marshal that he will not walk into the courtroom, he will not rise when the, when the judge enters the courtroom, he will not cooperate with counsel, is designed to obstruct this trial; I think it's manipulative. And under [United States v. Houtchens, 926 F.2d 824 (9th Cir.1991) ] that the defendant by his conduct has knowingly and voluntarily waived his presence at trial, his right to be present at trial. Also [United States v. Fontanez, 878 F.2d 33 (2d Cir.1989) ]; again, where a defendant deliberately absented himself from trial.

I think that case stands for the principle that a defendant who by his conduct tries to prevent a trial from going forward in fact waives his, knowingly and voluntarily waives his right to be present at trial. And I regret the circumstance; if he is refusing to cooperate with you it's not because he is mentally incapable of cooperating with you, Mr. Willis, and I appreciate the extraordinary efforts you have made in attempting to represent Mr. Watkins' best interests, but I find that his conduct is willful.

Tr. at 6-7. 2

Mr. Watkins' counsel then objected to proceeding with the trial in view of Mr. Watkins' psychiatric history, but the district court opined that declining to proceed would constitute "playing his game," Tr. at 7, overruled the objection, and had Mr. Watkins removed from the courtroom. Defense counsel also requested a delay until Mr. Watkins could be examined, but the court denied the request. Tr. at 9.

The transcript reflects that court was recessed at 10:15 a.m. The entire proceeding in the presence of the defendant lasted three minutes. Despite the information it had just received from both counsel, the district court concluded, without further inquiry, that the defendant understood the implications of his actions and was capable of consulting with counsel. Nevertheless, at no time during this period did the court attempt to ascertain whether defense counsel had followed through on the court's direction that counsel determine whether the defendant wished to waive his right to be present at the proceedings. Nor did the district court, at any time during those three minutes, ever attempt to ascertain directly from the defendant whether he understood his right to be present or the implications of his conduct.

When court resumed at 10:21 a.m., in Mr. Watkins' absence, the court declared that "it is clearly in the public interest to proceed with the trial in a case where a defendant attempts unilaterally to obstruct proceedings, and that public interest clearly outweighs that of the voluntarily absent defendant, under Fontanez." Tr. at 9. The district court also informed counsel that it planned to have the marshall who had dealt with the...

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