Acosta v. Turner, 80-5095

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
Citation666 F.2d 949
Docket NumberNo. 80-5095,80-5095
PartiesJorge ACOSTA, Petitioner-Appellant, v. R. V. TURNER, Superintendent, Glades Correctional Institution, Respondent-Appellee. . Unit B *
Decision Date04 February 1982

Byron B. Mathews, Jr., Miami, Fla., court appointed, for petitioner-appellant.

James H. Greason, Stephen R. Jacob, Asst. Attys. Gen., Miami, Fla., for respondent-appellee.

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

Before GODBOLD, Chief Judge, Frank M. JOHNSON, Jr. and ANDERSON, Circuit Judges.

GODBOLD, Chief Judge:

This is an appeal from the district court's dismissal without a hearing of a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Acosta, a Florida state prisoner. We reverse because of issues that spring from the handling of the question of Acosta's competency to stand trial.

The record, on the basis of which the district court acted, is confusing and incomplete. In November 1973 police were called when Acosta was seen on a Miami street nude and with bleeding arms. Soon thereafter police found him in a hotel bed with slashed wrists, still alive, and found his girlfriend under the bed strangled to death. Twelve hours later, in a hospital, Acosta confessed to murdering the victim, indicating that he desired to be executed. He was charged with first degree murder. Four days after the confession he was examined by a court-appointed psychiatrist who diagnosed him as suffering from "a chronic schizophrenic illness," as lacking the "capacity to fully comprehend the proceedings against him or to assist counsel in his own defense," and as possibly lacking the ability to understand the "wrongfulness of his actions" or to "conform his behavior to the requirements of the law." Following this doctor's recommendation, Acosta was committed for treatment to a state hospital.

After almost one and one-half years of treatment Acosta was diagnosed on February 11, 1975 as still suffering from "a major mental illness, schizophrenia, paranoid type" but at the time "in remission." Acosta was taking a daily dosage of an antipsychotic drug. He was recommended by the state forensic board for release with follow-up care and was said by the board to be ready to stand trial. 1

Acosta was released March 3, 1975. The next day the court ordered Jackson Memorial Hospital to examine Acosta. On April 22 the court appointed a Dr. Georgia and Dr. Miguel A. Mora to examine the defendant. The record does not disclose whether any of these three examinations ordered by the court ever took place.

At a pretrial conference on July 9 Acosta's mental capacity to stand trial was discussed. Although Acosta was present, he spoke no English and the trial judge spoke no Spanish. It became clear that the court had intended to appoint Dr. Modesto Mora to examine the defendant and instead had erroneously appointed Dr. Miguel A. Mora. The court ordered Dr. Modesto Mora appointed. At this conference the following colloquy occurred between the court and counsel:

MR. GRAVES: (prosecutor) There is the feeling of the State that the defendant is, at this time, competent to stand trial. I don't know if Mr. Negretti (defense counsel) stipulates to the reports to his competency.

THE COURT: I feel that, after talking with you and Mr. Negretti, that he will stipulate that the defendant is competent to stand trial, at this time. However, I feel it should be put on the record and brought to your attention. If you are not aware, Mr. Graves, that the wrong Doctor Mora was appointed by the Court to evaluate this man. Who the Court had in mind was not appointed. Naturally, he hasn't been evaluated by Dr. Modesto Mora, which I believe was the one that was thought by the Court to be appointed. Another Mora was appointed.

MR. GRAVES: There are plenty reports in the file that are sufficient reports ... for us to stipulate.

MR. NEGRETTI: (defense counsel) We would rather waive for (the correct) Dr. Mora's report and he might come in. The man is not competent to stand trial. (Query whether the proper transcription is: "Dr. Mora's report ... might come in (that) the man is not competent to stand trial.") I will stipulate to the reports as they are right now as to his competency. I don't know, I am not a psychiatrist.


I feel my client is competent to stand trial. I don't know what Dr. Mora is going to find, which might be slightly different .... Right now, it's stipulated, my defendant is competent to stand trial upon the reports that we have had ....

THE COURT: Could you stipulate to his competency to stand trial based upon the reports that you have and that Dr. Mora's reports comes in differently? Then, of course, in the matter that we have entered into today would be vacated because that would be in fairness to the defendant.

MR. NEGRETTI: That would be fine, your honor.


THE COURT: We will set it down for a waived jury trial in first-degree murder case on 6/23 ....


(I)f there is any indication in the report that he is not competent to stand trial, of course, we can vacate those proceedings insanus (sic) (in fairness?) to the defendant.

In his second remark in this colloquy, prosecutor Graves referred to reports in the file sufficient to support a stipulation of competency. As of that date the only reports indicating competency that are revealed by the record before us are the February 1975 reports of the state forensic board and of Acosta's treating psychiatrist pursuant to which Acosta was released from the state hospital. The colloquy discloses an agreement between court and counsel: counsel would stipulate to Acosta's competency to stand trial and the case would proceed without waiting for Dr. Modesto Mora's report; if the report, when it came in, indicated incompetency the trial proceedings would be vacated.

The record does not contain a report by Dr. Modesto Mora nor does it tell whether he ever examined Acosta.

On June 24 Acosta was convicted in a one day trial. The next day, June 25, the trial judge ordered examinations by two more doctors, both previously unmentioned, Drs. Mutter and Castiello, to determine whether Acosta was competent to undergo sentencing. Dr. Mutter's report was given August 20, eight weeks after trial, and it diagnosed Acosta as "still suffering from a major mental disorder, ... incapable of understanding the proceedings by virtue of his active psychotic process, ... (and) incapable of assisting his counsel ...." 2 The full report of Dr. Castiello's examination is not in the record. However, in a report given in 1976 Dr. Castiello stated that he had seen Acosta on July 9, 1975, two weeks after the trial, "and at that time the defendant was considered psychotic, (and) not competent to stand trial."

Acosta was recommitted to the state institution, presumably on the basis of the Mutter report, where he remained until May 1976 when he was released as competent. He was then sentenced to 50 years imprisonment.

After exhausting his state remedies, Acosta brought this petition for writ of habeas corpus, alleging several constitutional violations. The district court denied habeas. We reverse on the ground that adequate procedural steps were not taken by the state trial court to ensure Acosta's competency to stand trial.

I. The pretrial agreement by the trial court

Acosta's contentions before the district court relevant to his competency to stand trial focus primarily on Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966), which requires the trial court under certain circumstances to inquire sua sponte into a defendant's mental condition. This matter is addressed in part II below, where we ultimately remand the case to the district court. Before we take up the Pate issues, however, we observe that there is another matter that might dispose of this case on remand without requiring the complex Pate remedial procedures.

A conditional agreement was entered into between court and counsel at the pretrial conference under which defense counsel stipulated to Acosta's competency and the case proceeded to trial without waiting for the correct Dr. Mora's report. The trial court was required to keep its end of the bargain made. Analogous precedent is found in the area of plea bargaining. If a defendant is induced to plead guilty by a promise of some performance by the prosecution, the defendant has a constitutional right to specific performance of the bargain. Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 92 S.Ct. 495, 30 L.Ed.2d 427 (1971). This right adheres regardless of whether the omission by the state is inadvertent or appears to be harmless. Id. at 262, 92 S.Ct. at 498-99. The right to enforcement of a plea bargain promise arises because "this phase of the process of criminal justice ... must be attended by safeguards to insure the defendant what is reasonably due in the circumstances." Id. The competency of a criminal defendant to stand trial is of such fundamental importance to our criminal justice system that "safeguards to insure the defendant what is reasonably due" are required. This is the rationale of Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966) and successor cases concerning competency to stand trial. Proper administration of criminal justice and principles of due process therefore require no less adherence to the state's agreements in this context than in the area of guilty pleas.

The trial judge agreed to vacate the proceedings if Dr. Modesto Mora's report gave "any indication" that Acosta was incompetent. 3 The record does not contain a Mora report and so this issue must be developed and considered in the district court. If Dr. Modesto Mora conducted an examination of Acosta and if his report gives any indication that Acosta was incompetent, the writ must issue subject to the right of the state to retry Acosta. If no report by Dr. Modesto Mora is found, the Mutter and Castiello reports are...

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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
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    ...right to a competency hearing was violated. See Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966); Acosta v. Turner, 666 F.2d 949, 954 (5th Cir. Unit B Page 1567 The standard for whether a defendant is entitled to a hearing to determine his competence has been described as......
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