Com. v. Haag

Decision Date24 October 2002
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee, v. Randy Todd HAAG. Appeal of Naomi Haag, as Next Friend, Appellant.
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

809 A.2d 271
570 Pa. 289

COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee,
Randy Todd HAAG.
Appeal of Naomi Haag, as Next Friend, Appellant

Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Submitted January 23, 2001.

Decided October 24, 2002.

809 A.2d 274
Andrea McKenna, Harrisburg, for Com

Robert Brett Dunham, Philadelphia, for Naomi Haag.


809 A.2d 272

809 A.2d 273

Justice NEWMAN.

Naomi Haag (Appellant), as next friend of Randy Todd Haag (Haag), appeals from an Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County (PCRA court) denying her motion to stay all Post Conviction Relief Act1 (PCRA) proceedings and requiring her to proceed on the PCRA petition that she had filed on behalf of Haag. Based upon the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

809 A.2d 275

This case involves a somewhat complicated procedural history. On February 7, 1986, a jury found Haag guilty of the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Richard Good. Following a penalty phase hearing, the jury sentenced Haag to death and the trial court imposed a consecutive sentence of ten to twenty years imprisonment for the kidnapping charge. Haag filed a direct appeal with this Court. During the pendency of his direct appeal, Haag's attorney at trial and on appeal, Robert L. Van Hoove, Esq. (Van Hoove), died. Subsequent to his death, Van Hoove's files regarding Haag's case were destroyed. Then, this Court affirmed Haag's conviction for murder in the first-degree and the sentence of death. Commonwealth v. Haag, 522 Pa. 388, 562 A.2d 289 (1989).

While Haag remained incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Huntington (SCI Huntingdon), the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) sought involuntary mental health treatment for Haag pursuant to the Mental Health Procedures Act (Mental Health Act).2 In March of 1991, William J. Love, Acting Superintendent of SCI Huntingdon, filed a petition in the Huntingdon County Court of Common Pleas requesting permission to involuntarily commit Haag in order to treat him for his mental illness. An attorney from the Huntingdon County Public Defender's Office represented Haag at the involuntary treatment hearing. By Order dated April 5, 1991, former President Judge Newton C. Taylor denied the Petition for Involuntary Treatment. The judge found evidence that Haag was mentally ill; however, he denied the petition because the DOC had failed to demonstrate that Haag was a danger to himself or others, as required for involuntary treatment orders under the Mental Health Act.3

The DOC continued to monitor Haag's mental state. Haag's mental health records from 1991 through 1994 reflect that Dr. Frederick E. Wawrose, Consulting Psychiatrist at SCI Huntingdon, repeatedly diagnosed Haag as psychotic, paranoid schizophrenic, delusional, and suffering from Capgras' Syndrome.4

Then, on November 28, 1995, Norris Gelman, Esq. (PCRA counsel)5 filed a PCRA petition on behalf of Haag alleging that Haag was incompetent to pursue collateral relief and seeking the appointment of Haag's mother, Naomi Haag (Appellant), as next friend.6 The Commonwealth

809 A.2d 276
contested the appointment of Appellant as next friend and filed a response to Haag's PCRA petition

On April 26, 1996, then-Governor Tom Ridge issued a death warrant for the execution of Haag. Thereafter, the Governor signed a reprieve staying the death warrant pending the resolution of Haag's PCRA proceedings.

On March 12, 1997, the PCRA court issued an Order that scheduled a hearing on whether or not Haag had made a conscious and rational decision not to contest the death penalty. Additionally, the court ordered Dr. Robert L. Sadoff (Dr. Sadoff) to act as its impartial psychiatric witness on this issue and permitted the parties to present their own expert opinions as to Haag's competence.

At the hearing on April 28, 1997, defense psychologist Dr. Richard G. Dudley, Jr. (Dr. Dudley) testified as to Haag's competency. Dr. Dudley reported that Haag was unable to assist his present counsel in post conviction litigation because he did not possess a rational understanding of his present situation and in his present state, he was not able to discuss facts relevant to the case or to answer even the most basic inquiries from counsel. On May 7, 1997, Dr. Sadoff testified that he was in agreement with Dr. Dudley's assessment of Haag's mental state. Dr. Sadoff opined that, because of Haag's psychosis, he was not competent to knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a collateral attack of his sentence and conviction.

On May 19, 1997, the PCRA court issued an Order stating that while Haag was incompetent to stand trial or to be executed, Appellant could not file a PCRA petition as next friend. The court stated that Appellant could pursue PCRA relief on behalf of Haag only as a court-appointed guardian. As part of its May 19, 1997 Order, the court dismissed the next friend petition. Upon request of the parties, on June 11, 1997, the PCRA court vacated its Order of May 19, 1997, and stayed all proceedings pending this Court's decision in In re Heidnik, 554 Pa. 177, 720 A.2d 1016 (1998). We issued our decision in Heidnik and the PCRA court granted Appellant next friend status on October 29, 1998.

On November 10, 1998, Attorney General Mike Fisher filed a Motion for a Treatment Order, asking the PCRA court to order the DOC to provide treatment to Haag for paranoid schizophrenia. Following a hearing on January 4, 1999, the PCRA court dismissed the motion because the court found that the Attorney General had presented no evidence that Haag was a danger to himself or others as is required for involuntary treatment of all individuals under the Mental Health Act.7

On January 29, 1999, the PCRA court ordered Appellant to proceed with her reinstated petition for post conviction relief on behalf of Haag. Appellant moved the PCRA court to declare next friend remedies inadequate to protect Haag's right to challenge his conviction and death sentence and to stay all PCRA proceedings until Haag regained his competence. The court allowed defense psychiatrist Dr. Dudley to re-examine Haag to determine Haag's current mental state.

809 A.2d 277
The PCRA court held a hearing on Appellant's motion on April 9, 1999. At the hearing, Dr. Dudley again offered the opinion that Haag was incompetent and that his condition remained unchanged from his last evaluation.

On February 4, 2000, the PCRA court issued an Order denying Appellant's motion to stay PCRA proceedings. The court declined to declare Haag incompetent to proceed with collateral review of his death sentence because the court found such a determination unnecessary when a next friend had been appointed and had commenced PCRA proceedings on behalf of the prisoner. Finally, the PCRA court ordered Appellant to proceed with her PCRA next friend petition.

In its Opinion in support of its Order, the PCRA court held that a court may decide a PCRA petition on its merits, despite the fact that a prisoner is not competent to assist his next friend or counsel during the proceedings. The court noted that no Pennsylvania or United States Supreme Court decision establishes a standard of competence for a PCRA proceeding. The court reasoned that the whole purpose of appointing a next friend is to secure a prisoner's PCRA rights, even when the prisoner cannot secure them for himself or herself. The court concluded that a prisoner could always proceed by next friend regardless of how incompetent he or she may be.

On February 8, 2000, the PCRA court certified that its Order in the present case involved a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for a difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from its Order may materially advance the ultimate determination of the matter. Thereafter, Appellant sought permission to appeal to this Court and we granted review.


A. Competency Requirement

We have addressed the competency required of an individual to proceed through various stages of the criminal justice system. According to our Mental Health Act, an individual must be competent to be tried, convicted, or sentenced. 50 P.S. § 7402(a). The Mental Health Act provides that a defendant is incompetent when "found to be substantially unable to understand the nature or object of the proceedings against him or to participate and assist in his defense." Id. In Commonwealth v. Jermyn, 539 Pa. 371, 652 A.2d 821, 823 (1995), cert. denied, 515 U.S. 1126, 115 S.Ct. 2285, 132 L.Ed.2d 287 (1995), we recognized that the above-stated competency standard does not apply beyond sentencing. Regarding direct appeal, a defendant must possess some level of competence because he or she may waive his or her right to appeal only through knowing, voluntary, and intelligent waiver. PA. CONST. art. 5, § 9; Commonwealth v. Passaro, 504 Pa. 611, 476 A.2d 346, 348 (1984). We have stated that it is not proper for an appellate court to review a defendant's direct appeal if he or she is not competent enough to communicate with counsel. Commonwealth v. Silo, 469 Pa. 40, 364 A.2d 893, 894-95 (1976). In addition, looking to the decision of the United States Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986), we have recognized that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of an incompetent individual. Jermyn, 652 A.2d at 822. The Commonwealth may not execute someone who does not "comprehend[] the reasons for the death penalty and its implications." Id. at 824.

Whether an individual must possess some level of competency in order to pursue a collateral challenge of his or her conviction and death sentence is a matter

809 A.2d 278
of first impression in Pennsylvania.8 Neither the PCRA nor its accompanying rules of procedure discuss the competency of a prisoner to pursue relief under the Act....

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