Corcoran v. State, No. 02S00-0304-PD-00143.

Docket NºNo. 02S00-0304-PD-00143.
Citation820 N.E.2d 655
Case DateJanuary 11, 2005
CourtSupreme Court of Indiana

820 N.E.2d 655

Joseph E. CORCORAN, Appellant (Petitioner below),
v.
STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Defendant below)

No. 02S00-0304-PD-00143.

Supreme Court of Indiana.

January 11, 2005.


820 N.E.2d 656
Susan K. Carpenter, Public Defender of Indiana, Joanna McFadden, Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellant

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Stephen R. Creason, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.

ON PETITION TO TRANSFER FROM THE ALLEN COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT, NO. 02S00-0304-PD-143.

SULLIVAN, Justice.

Joseph E. Corcoran, convicted of four murders and sentenced to death, indicated that he believed he should be put to death for his crimes and waived any further legal review of his convictions and sentence.

820 N.E.2d 657
The State Public Defender took the position that he was not competent to make that decision. The trial court with responsibility for this case found Corcoran to be competent and the State Public Defender appealed that determination. Recently, Corcoran recanted his waiver of further review and now seeks dismissal of this appeal. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we deny Corcoran's recent request for dismissal and affirm the trial court's determination of competency

Background

Corcoran killed his brother, his sister's fiance, and two other men in an incident at his sister's home. He was convicted of four counts of murder in May, 1999, and sentenced to death. Corcoran sought appellate review only of his death sentence; he did not challenge the convictions.1 This Court affirmed the sentence. Corcoran v. State, 774 N.E.2d 495 (Ind.2002). Corcoran filed a petition seeking rehearing that was denied on March 4, 2003. 2002 WL 31002914, 2003 Ind. Lexis 265 (Ind.2003).

Indiana law provides procedures for individuals sentenced to death to challenge their sentences even after they have been affirmed by the State Supreme Court by means seeking "post-conviction remedies." To avail oneself of these remedies, an individual sentenced to death must comply with certain provisions of the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure and Rules of Procedure for Post-Conviction Remedies.

Indiana Criminal Procedure Rule 24(G)(2) provides:

On the thirtieth (30th) day following completion of rehearing, the Supreme Court shall enter an order setting an execution date, unless counsel has appeared and requested a stay in accordance with section (H) of this rule.

Section H provides:

Within thirty (30) days following completion of rehearing, private counsel retained by the inmate or the State Public Defender (by deputy or by special assistant in the event of a conflict of interest) shall enter an appearance in the trial court, advise the trial court of the intent to petition for post-conviction relief, and request the Supreme Court to extend the stay of execution of the death sentence.... When the request to extend the stay is received, the Supreme Court will direct the trial court to submit a case management schedule consistent with Ind.Code § 35-50-2-9(i) for approval.

On April 2, 2003, the State Public Defender appeared and requested a stay in accordance with these provisions. This Court granted the request and, pursuant to our order, the trial court submitted a case management schedule requiring a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief to be filed by September 9, 2003.

A Petition for Post-Conviction Relief must be signed by the petitioner. Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(3). Corcoran refused to sign a Petition. On September 9, the State Public Defender made two filings of relevance to us here with the trial court that has jurisdiction over this case. First, she filed a Petition for Post-Conviction Relief unsigned by the petitioner. And second, she filed a request to determine Corcoran's competency. The trial court refused to allow the Petition because it was unsigned but did schedule a competency hearing.

820 N.E.2d 658
The trial court held a hearing on Corcoran's competency in October, 2003. In December, 2003, the trial court found Corcoran to be competent to waive further challenges to his sentence and be executed. The State Public Defender then sought our review of the trial court's determination. The State has not disputed that the State Public Defender has standing to appeal the trial court's competency determination, although the State does argue that the lawyers do not have standing to raise any other issues on Corcoran's behalf.2

On November 16, 2004, Corcoran filed a request with this Court, accompanied by an affidavit indicating his intention to pursue post-conviction relief after all, asking us to dismiss this appeal of the trial court's competency determination as moot and return this case to that court for post-conviction proceedings.

As discussed supra, Corcoran has never filed a petition for post-conviction relief and the time to do so has, as best as we can determine, now passed. See Crim. R. 24(H) (petitions for post-conviction relief in capital cases must be filed within 30 days following completion of rehearing).3 Therefore, the ability of Corcoran to obtain post-conviction review of his convictions or sentence at this point is dependent upon the resolution of issues raised by this appeal. We conclude it is in the best interest of the orderly processing of this litigation for this Court to complete review of the issues raised in this appeal at this time. For this reason, Corcoran's motion to dismiss this appeal is denied.

We proceed to address the issues initially raised in this appeal.

Discussion

I

The State Public Defender attacks the trial court's competency determination on three grounds. First, she argues that the trial court applied an improper standard to determine competency. Second, she contends as a factual matter that Corcoran is incompetent to waive post-conviction review under any competency standard this Court might choose to employ. Third, she maintains that as a result of Corcoran's incompetence, he could not knowingly, voluntarily, or intelligently waive his right to post-conviction relief.

A

The State argues that the proper standard for determining the level of competency necessary for Corcoran to waive his right to post-conviction review was that set forth in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824 (1960) (per

820 N.E.2d 659
curiam). In Dusky, the Supreme Court held that a defendant is competent to stand trial if "he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding — and... has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." 362 U.S. at 402, 80 S.Ct. 788. The State relies on this standard in part because it is consistent with Indiana Code section 35-36-3-1, Indiana's statutory trial competency standard.4

The State Public Defender argues that the proper competency standard is that announced in Rees v. Peyton, 384 U.S. 312, 86 S.Ct. 1505, 16 L.Ed.2d 583 (1966) (per curiam). In Rees, the Supreme Court held that a capital defendant may withdraw a petition for certiorari only after it is determined whether "he has capacity to appreciate his position and make a rational choice with respect to continuing or abandoning further litigation or on the other hand whether he is suffering from a mental disease, disorder, or defect which may substantially affect his capacity in the premises." Rees, 384 U.S. at 314, 86 S.Ct. 1505.

We are constrained to say that we find little if any difference between the standards enunciated in Dusky and Rees. See Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389, 398 n. 9, 113 S.Ct. 2680, 125 L.Ed.2d 321 (1993) (acknowledging that the difference between the Dusky and Rees standards is not readily apparent and may only be one of terminology). A number of federal courts that have faced this question have been unable, or felt it unnecessary, to attempt to discern a difference between the two tests. See Dennis v. Budge, 378 F.3d 880, 889 (9th Cir.2004) (refusing to resolve whether there is any difference between the Rees and Dusky standards because the analytical outcomes under each test would be the same); Michael v. Horn, 2004 WL 438678, 2004 U.S. Dist. Lexis 3702 (M.D.Pa.2004) (relying on both the principles of Rees and Dusky to determine competency to forego a collateral challenge); Groseclose v. Dutton, 594 F.Supp. 949, 957 n. 4 (M.D.Tenn.1984) (stating that Dusky is analytically equivalent to the Rees competency test).

Federal courts have been unwilling or unable to distinguish between the Rees and Dusky standards because both tests "highlight[ ] the constitutional necessity that a criminal defendant understand the proceedings and then be capable of aiding his legal counsel in choosing among legal alternatives." Groseclose, 594 F.Supp. at 957 n. 4. Under both standards, the inquiry focuses on the individual's "discrete capacity to understand and make rational decisions concerning the proceedings at issue...." Mata v. Johnson, 210 F.3d 324, 329 n. 2 (5th Cir.2000). Further, neither test treats "the presence or absence of mental illness or brain disorder [as] dispositive" proof of incompetence, but balances its presence or absence with other evidence. Id. Both tests appear to be equivalent in that each is applied in the same way to determine whether an individual has the capacity to comprehend the legal proceedings with which he or she is confronted and assist his or her counsel in choosing among the various legal alternatives.

For these reasons, we will evaluate the post-conviction court's competency determination under the principles of both standards.

820 N.E.2d 660
B

We have previously been required to review a post-conviction court's competency determination in a capital proceeding. Timberlake v. State, 753 N.E.2d 591, 597 (Ind.2001).5 In Timberlake, we held that a post-conviction court's competency findings are afforded a high level of deference by a reviewing court. The...

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18 practice notes
  • Corcoran v. Buss, No. 07-2093.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • December 31, 2008
    ...of further appeal of his death sentence impossible because the illness prevents him from making rational decisions. Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655, 660, aff'd on reh'g, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind.2005) (Corcoran III.) All three experts interviewed Corcoran for several hours, reviewed his medica......
  • Corcoran v. Buss, No. 3:05-CV-389 AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • April 9, 2007
    ...related to this case. Corcoran v. State, 739 N.E.2d 649 (Ind. 2000) Corcoran v. State, 774 N.E.2d 495 (Ind. 2002) Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655 (Ind. Corcoran v. State, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind. 2005) Corcoran v. State, 845 N.E.2d 1019 (Ind. 2006) Each will be discussed later in this opinion......
  • Corcoran v. Buss, CAUSE NO. 3:05-CV-389 JD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • January 10, 2013
    ...of his mental illness.The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the post-conviction court's competency determination. See Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655, 662, aff'd on reh'g, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind. 2005) ("Corcoran III"). In doing so, the court considered: (1) the testimony of the experts, each o......
  • Pruitt v. State, No. 15S00-0109-DP-393.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • September 13, 2005
    ...for Pruitt. Rather, Pruitt suffered from schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder. Unlike the defendant in Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655 (Ind.2005), it is neither conceded nor proved that Pruitt suffers from a mental illness. Pruitt shot and killed an officer in the line of duty. Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
18 cases
  • Corcoran v. Buss, No. 07-2093.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • December 31, 2008
    ...of further appeal of his death sentence impossible because the illness prevents him from making rational decisions. Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655, 660, aff'd on reh'g, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind.2005) (Corcoran III.) All three experts interviewed Corcoran for several hours, reviewed his medica......
  • Corcoran v. Buss, No. 3:05-CV-389 AS.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • April 9, 2007
    ...related to this case. Corcoran v. State, 739 N.E.2d 649 (Ind. 2000) Corcoran v. State, 774 N.E.2d 495 (Ind. 2002) Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655 (Ind. Corcoran v. State, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind. 2005) Corcoran v. State, 845 N.E.2d 1019 (Ind. 2006) Each will be discussed later in this opinion......
  • Corcoran v. Buss, CAUSE NO. 3:05-CV-389 JD
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
    • January 10, 2013
    ...of his mental illness.The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the post-conviction court's competency determination. See Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655, 662, aff'd on reh'g, 827 N.E.2d 542 (Ind. 2005) ("Corcoran III"). In doing so, the court considered: (1) the testimony of the experts, each o......
  • Pruitt v. State, No. 15S00-0109-DP-393.
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • September 13, 2005
    ...for Pruitt. Rather, Pruitt suffered from schizoid or schizotypal personality disorder. Unlike the defendant in Corcoran v. State, 820 N.E.2d 655 (Ind.2005), it is neither conceded nor proved that Pruitt suffers from a mental illness. Pruitt shot and killed an officer in the line of duty. Th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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