Commonwealth v. Humphrey

Decision Date29 September 2022
Docket Number81 MAP 2021, No. 82 MAP 2021
Citation283 A.3d 275
Parties COMMONWEALTH of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Jquan HUMPHREY, Appellant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Appellee v. Jquan Humphrey, Appellant
CourtPennsylvania Supreme Court

Peter E. Kratsa, Esq., West Chester, for Amicus Curiae Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Leonard Sosnov, Esq., Defender Association of Philadelphia, Harrisburg, for Amicus Curiae Defender Association of Philadelphia.

Nyssa E. Taylor, Esq., American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, for Amicus Curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

David R. Crowley, Esq., Centre County Public Defender's Office, Bellefonte, for Appellant.

Bernard Flynn Cantorna, Esq., Amanda Kathleen Chaplin, Esq., Centre County District Attorney's Office, for Appellee.




This appeal presents the issue of whether Section 7403(e) of the Mental Health Procedures Act ("MHPA" or "Act"), 50 P.S. § 7403(e), authorizes a trial court to dismiss criminal charges filed against a defendant who is incompetent, and will likely remain so, under circumstances where the passage of time and its effect upon the criminal proceedings render it unjust to resume the prosecution. Following established intermediate appellate court precedent, the Superior Court held that Section 7403(e) authorizes dismissal of criminal charges only under circumstances where the defendant has regained his competence, and not where he remains incompetent. Jquan Humphrey ("Appellant") challenges this settled statutory interpretation.

For the reasons set forth herein, we respectfully reject the Superior Court's interpretation of Section 7403(e) and hold that the MHPA does not limit the trial court's authority to dismiss criminal charges to circumstances where the defendant regained his competency. Instead, Section 7403(e) authorizes a trial court to dismiss criminal charges filed against an incompetent defendant where the court finds that it would be unjust to resume the prosecution due to the passage of time and its effect upon the criminal proceeding. Accordingly, we vacate the judgments of the Superior Court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

On September 13, 2017, while serving a state sentence on an unrelated matter at State Correctional Institution Benner Township ("SCI Benner Township") in Centre County, Pennsylvania, Appellant allegedly threw a bag of urine on a corrections officer. A few months later, on November 11, 2017, Appellant allegedly spat on a corrections officer at that institution. As a result of these incidents, the Commonwealth charged Appellant with two counts of aggravated harassment by prisoner pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2703.1. Preliminary hearings were conducted on these charges on December 6, 2017, and February 7, 2018, respectively, and the charges were bound over for trial.

Upon defense counsel's request and with the agreement of the Commonwealth, the trial court entered an order on September 21, 2018, directing a psychiatric evaluation and competency examination of Appellant. Scott J. Scotilla, Psy. D., evaluated Appellant on November 7, 2018, and prepared a report, dated December 5, 2018. See Commonwealth Exhibit 7 to Commonwealth's Answer to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. In his report, Dr. Scotilla indicated that when he personally attempted to interview Appellant at the Centre County Courthouse Annex, Appellant was unresponsive and asked questions of a paranoid nature. Report of Dr. Scotilla, 12/05/2018, at 1. He explained that Appellant insisted that the color of the doctor's folder signified that he had come from Russia to obtain secret information from him due to his status as a prince in a Jamaican tribe. Id. Appellant further indicated that the CIA and the Russian mob likewise sought similar information from him.

Dr. Scotilla noted that Appellant jumped from topic to topic regarding conspiracy theories and was unable to be redirected to participate in the interview, notwithstanding being informed that any inability to answer questions was akin to a refusal to participate in the evaluation. Id. He opined that Appellant "showed frequent derailment and delusions, and he was tangential, paranoid, grandiose and perseverative in the manner with which he spoke."1 Id. at 2. Dr. Scotilla referenced his review of several Department of Corrections ("DOC") Mental Health Contact Notes, spanning from June through September of 2017, which indicated that Appellant had previously engaged in behavior similar to that exhibited by him during the evaluation.

Dr. Scotilla asserted that while Appellant's mental health diagnoses had changed throughout that period, the latest reference indicated that he suffered from antisocial personality disorder and mild intellectual disability. Id. at 4. Observing that Appellant was being treated with antipsychotic medication without the diagnosis of schizophrenia spectrum disorder or a bipolar disorder with psychotic features, Dr. Scotilla opined that Appellant previously displayed symptoms of bipolar disorder. Id. at 4-5. Based on his personal observation of Appellant's behavior and his review of DOC's records, Dr. Scotilla concluded that Appellant should be evaluated at Torrance State Hospital's Regional Forensic Psychiatric Center which, he opined, was uniquely suited to evaluate Appellant and provide restoration of competency services should they be deemed necessary.2 Id. at 4. Dr. Scotilla offered no opinion in his report regarding whether Appellant's competency could be restored or whether treatment options within the DOC could address Appellant's competency issues.

Appellant's counsel subsequently filed a petition in the trial court on March 21, 2019, alleging that Appellant was unable to understand the nature of the proceedings against him, and that, due to his mental illness, he was not criminally responsible for the offenses. The petition additionally sought a hearing on the matter. On May 16, 2019, the parties appeared before the trial court, and the Commonwealth agreed, based upon Dr. Scotilla's report, that Appellant was incompetent to proceed to trial at that time. Accordingly, on that same date, the trial court entered an order finding Appellant incompetent to stand trial and ordering Appellant "into involuntary treatment through the Department of Corrections for a period not to exceed 60 days," after which the case would be reevaluated. Trial Court Order, 5/16/2019.

Unable to comprehend fully the treatment ordered in the trial court's May 16th order purportedly due to a lack of citation to the MHPA, staff at State Correctional Institution Greene ("SCI Greene") subsequently contacted the Commonwealth for guidance. The Commonwealth conveyed the issue to the trial court, which, on July 8, 2019, entered a second order with the consent of both parties, stating that pursuant to Section 7402(b) of the MHPA, Appellant was to be committed to an inpatient treatment facility to be designated by the DOC for a period not to exceed 60 days.3

On August 14, 2019, a member of the DOC legal department informed the Commonwealth that the Department of Human Services ("DHS"), and not the DOC, was the agency responsible for providing competency restoration services. The Commonwealth was further provided with contact information regarding the referral process. At a status conference the following month, the Commonwealth relayed that information to the trial court, which directed the Commonwealth to make the referral.

On October 25, 2019, the trial court entered a third order, finding by a preponderance of the evidence that Appellant was incompetent to stand trial on the charges of aggravated harassment by prisoner, and that inpatient psychiatric/psychological treatment was required to restore Appellant's competency to stand trial. The order further stayed the criminal proceedings, ordered Appellant discharged from the state correctional facility into the custody of the DHS, and committed Appellant to Torrance State Hospital's Regional Forensic Psychiatric Center for a period not to exceed 60 days, after which the court would review the physician's report on Appellant's competency.

By letter dated November 14, 2019, Torrance State Hospital informed the Commonwealth that Appellant had been denied admittance because he was a state inmate serving a sentence of incarceration.4 At the following status conference, the trial court indicated that the parties could file motions concerning future proceedings in the event the competency issue remained unresolved.

Thereafter, on December 5, 2019, Appellant filed a motion to dismiss the two counts of aggravated harassment by prisoner. Appellant contended that while the Commonwealth pursued various avenues, it was ultimately unable to afford him the competency restoration services he required. Appellant's Motion to Dismiss, 12/5/2019, at ¶ 27. Emphasizing that approximately two years had already passed since his offenses were committed, Appellant maintained that he would not likely regain competency within the foreseeable future and it would be unjust, by virtue of the passage of time and his mental condition, for the Commonwealth to proceed on the charges against him. Id. at ¶¶ 33-34, 36.

In its answer to the motion to dismiss, the Commonwealth opposed the dismissal of the charges, alleging that Appellant presented insufficient evidence to establish a substantial likelihood that he would remain incompetent to stand trial or that it would be unjust or prejudicial to resume prosecution on the charges of aggravated harassment by prisoner. Commonwealth's Answer to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss at ¶¶ 41, 44. The Commonwealth averred that those criminal charges were not so old or complex that it would be burdensome to resume prosecution should Appellant's competency be restored. Id. at ¶ 47. Notably, the...

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  • Commonwealth v. Nuzzo
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    • October 18, 2022
    ...this regard, § 7402 is an anomaly within the MHPA, which primarily deals with mental health treatment. Cf. Commonwealth v. Humphrey , ––– Pa. ––––, 283 A.3d 275, 289 (Sept. 29, 2022) (noting that "[t]he MHPA, enacted in 1976, governs the provision of inpatient psychiatric treatment and invo......
  • Commonwealth v. Sinclair
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Superior Court
    • January 18, 2023
    ...appeal. While Appellee's petition for allowance of appeal was pending, our Supreme Court issued its decision in Commonwealth v. Humphrey, 283 A.3d 275 (Pa. 2022). In Humphrey, our Supreme Court abrogated Hazur and McGargle, and it held that the trial court is not required to find the defend......
  • Commonwealth v. Sinclair
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    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • October 17, 2022
    ...of the Superior Court is VACATED , and the case is REMANDED to the Superior Court for reconsideration in light of Commonwealth v. Humphrey , ––– Pa. ––––, 283 A.3d 275 (Pa. filed Sep. 29, ...

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