Adams v. Wainwright

Decision Date17 June 1985
Docket NumberNo. 84-3646,84-3646
Citation764 F.2d 1356
PartiesAubrey Dennis ADAMS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Louie L. WAINWRIGHT, and Jim Smith, Respondents-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Kenneth R. Hart, Timothy B. Elliott, Ausley, McMullen, McGehee, Carothers & Proctor, Tallahassee, Fla., for petitioner-appellant.

Margene A. Roper, Asst. Atty. Gen., Port Orange, Fla., for respondents-appellees.

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

Before RONEY, FAY and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges.

JOHNSON, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner, Aubrey Dennis Adams, was convicted of first degree murder in a Florida court in 1978. Following the jury's recommendation, the trial judge imposed the death sentence. Direct appeals proved unsuccessful, Adams v. State, 412 So.2d 850 (Fla.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 882, 103 S.Ct. 182, 74 L.Ed.2d 148 (1982), as have subsequent petitions in state court seeking post-conviction and habeas corpus relief. Adams v. State, 456 So.2d 888 (Fla.1984). This is an appeal from the district court's denial of the petitioner's federal habeas petition. Adams v. Wainwright, No. 84-170-Civ-Oc-16 (M.D.Fla. Sept. 18, 1984). We affirm.


In March 1978, the body of an eight year old girl was discovered in a remote wooded area near Ocala, Florida. The petitioner's conviction for the young girl's murder was based on circumstantial evidence and incriminating statements he made to investigating officers. Physical evidence found near the body was similar to evidence found in the petitioner's home and automobile. In a written statement, the petitioner admitted that he had offered the victim a ride home from school, she had accepted, and he had driven in another direction. The petitioner remembered "being stopped somewhere and she was screaming and I put my hand over her mouth and she quit breathing." Verbally, the petitioner admitted removing the victim's clothes, using rope to tie her hands, and placing plastic bags over her body. When asked if he had any type of sexual relations with the victim, the petitioner said he thought he had tried but could not do it or could not bring himself to do it. The testimony of the officers indicates that the petitioner had difficulty remembering the details of the killing when questioned.

A. The Petitioner's Mental Competence to Stand Trial and be Sentenced.

The trial court granted a pretrial motion by the defense for an order allowing a private psychiatrist to enter the petitioner's prison and examine him. In a subsequent pretrial hearing on the State's motion for a separate psychological examination, the petitioner's attorney asserted that he knew of no evidence having been presented to the court to suggest incompetency and that, absent such evidence, it would be improper for the court to order an additional examination. The State's motion was denied. The petitioner did not claim mental incompetency or allege an insanity defense at trial. In the presentence report, however, the defense attorney is attributed with the statement that the petitioner had been unable to recall the details of the crime and this had impaired the petitioner's assistance in his defense. Moreover, the petitioner now proffers a psychological evaluation made after his conviction which purports to demonstrate that he suffers from catathymic amnesia, a mental disorder which prevents him from recalling traumatic experiences. Based on this recent evaluation, the petitioner contends that in 1978 he was incompetent to stand trial and be sentenced.

On motion for post-conviction relief, the Supreme Court of Florida summarily held that the petitioner's claim of mental incompetence was procedurally barred because he had failed to argue the claim in direct appeals to the state courts. Adams v. State, supra, 456 So.2d at 890, citing McCrae v. State, 437 So.2d 1388 (Fla.1983). No evidentiary hearing was held in state court to determine whether the petitioner was mentally incompetent at the time of trial and sentencing.

The district court below similarly denied the petitioner's claim of incompetency, (1) citing procedural default or waiver due to his failure to argue this claim before the state courts on direct appeal, and (2) finding, in any event, that insufficient evidence had been presented to raise a legitimate doubt as to the petitioner's mental competence and thereby establish his entitlement to a competency hearing. Again, no evidentiary hearing was held. Instead, the district court relied solely on the trial transcript and other documentary evidence.

1. Procedural Default. Binding precedent fully supports the petitioner's contention that the procedural default rule of Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 53 L.Ed.2d 594 (1977), does not operate to preclude a defendant who failed to request a competency hearing at trial or pursue a claim of incompetency on direct appeal from contesting his competency to stand trial and be sentenced through post-conviction proceedings. See Zapata v. Estelle, 588 F.2d 1017, 1021 (5th Cir.1979); Nathaniel v. Estelle, 493 F.2d 794, 798 (5th Cir.1974); Bruce v. Estelle, 483 F.2d 1031, 1037 (5th Cir.1973). Indeed, as the Supreme Court stated in Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966), "it is contradictory to argue that a defendant may be incompetent, and yet knowingly or intelligently 'waive' his right to have the court determine his capacity to stand trial." Id. at 384, 86 S.Ct. at 841; Zapata v. Estelle, supra, 588 F.2d at 1021; Bruce v. Estelle, supra, 483 F.2d at 1037. Therefore, the district court below erred in holding that the petitioner was procedurally barred from pursuing a claim of mental incompetency in a federal habeas corpus proceeding.

The district court's opinion attempts to distinguish Pate v. Robinson on factual grounds, noting that Robinson's sanity had been "very much at issue" throughout the criminal proceedings against him, while the petitioner in this case considered but rejected proffering an insanity plea. This factual difference does exist, but the district court's reasoning pretermits the initial conclusion in Pate v. Robinson and ignores subsequent decisions in this Circuit. The Supreme Court in Pate v. Robinson first reasoned that one who is incompetent cannot waive his right to a competency hearing. The secondary basis for its holding was that, "[i]n any event," waiver had not actually occurred because Robinson had made his sanity an issue throughout his trial. Pate v. Robinson, supra, 383 U.S. at 384, 86 S.Ct. at 841. Later decisions in this Circuit have applied the initial rationale of Pate v. Robinson in such a manner as to obviate the need for any inquiry into whether a convicted defendant who is alleging mental incompetency actually waived his right to a competency hearing at the time of his trial. These decisions have squarely held that waiver cannot occur. See Zapata v. Estelle, supra, 588 F.2d at 1021; Nathaniel v. Estelle, supra, 493 F.2d at 798; Bruce v. Estelle, supra, 483 F.2d at 1037.

2. Evidence of Mental Incompetence. Although the petitioner is not procedurally barred in these habeas proceedings from challenging his mental competency, he is not automatically entitled to a hearing on this claim. 1 The legal test for mental competency is whether, at the time of trial and sentencing, the petitioner had "sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" and whether he had "a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 789, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960). As a matter of procedural due process, a criminal defendant is entitled to an evidentiary hearing on his claim of incompetency if he presents clear and convincing evidence to create a "real, substantial and legitimate doubt as to [his] mental capacity ... to meaningfully participate and cooperate with counsel...." Bruce v. Estelle, supra, 483 F.2d at 1043; see also Zapata v. Estelle, supra, 588 F.2d at 1021-22; Nathaniel v. Estelle, supra, 493 F.2d at 798. The standard of proof is high. The facts must "positively, unequivocally and clearly generate" the legitimate doubt. Bruce v. Estelle, supra, 483 F.2d at 1043; see also Pride v. Estelle, 649 F.2d 324, 326 (5th Cir.1981) (requiring "more than a showing by a preponderance of the evidence" that the petitioner might have been incompetent at the time of the state trial).

The district court below found that the petitioner had not presented sufficient evidence to create a "real, substantial, and legitimate doubt" as to his mental competence to stand trial and be sentenced. Therefore, he was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing. In reaching this conclusion, the district court considered the trial transcript and other supporting documents. No live testimony was taken. Our review of findings based on such a record is, nevertheless, constrained by the usual strictures of the clearly erroneous standard. Anderson v. Bessemer City, --- U.S. ----, ----, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 1512, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985); see Dothan Coca-Cola Bottling Co. v. United States, 745 F.2d 1400, 1402-04 (11th Cir.1984) (choosing the clearly erroneous standard where the lower court considered only transcript of prior trial and other documentary evidence). Under the proper standard of review, we agree with the finding of the district court, though not with its reasoning entirely.

In finding that the petitioner had failed to raise a real, substantial, and legitimate doubt as to his competency to stand trial, the district court noted the statement made by the petitioner's attorney at the pretrial hearing that he then knew of no evidence to suggest the petitioner was incompetent. This statement was made, but its importance is limited by the context. As of the date of the hearing, the psychological testing of the...

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