Moran v. Godinez, No. 91-15609

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtPREGERSON
Citation972 F.2d 263
PartiesRichard Allan MORAN, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Salvador GODINEZ, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Decision Date30 July 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-15609

Page 263

972 F.2d 263
Richard Allan MORAN, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Salvador GODINEZ, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
No. 91-15609.
United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted Feb. 19, 1992.
Decided July 30, 1992.

Page 264

Cal J. Potter, III, Las Vegas, Nev., for petitioner-appellant.

Stuart J. Newman, Deputy Atty. Gen., Carson City, Nev., for respondent-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

Before: FARRIS, PREGERSON, and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

PREGERSON, Circuit Judge:

Richard Moran was convicted and sentenced to death by a Nevada state court for three counts of capital murder. After exhausting his state remedies, Moran filed a petition in federal district court for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court denied Moran's petition, and Moran appeals. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse.

I.

Richard Moran was still recovering from a suicide attempt in which he had slashed his wrists and shot himself in the abdomen when he appeared before a Nevada state court in November 1984 charged with three counts of capital murder. At that time, he discharged his counsel, changed his pleas to guilty, refused the court's offer of standby counsel, and announced that he wanted no mitigating evidence presented on his behalf. Moran expressed extreme remorse over shooting and killing two people at the Red Pearl Saloon and then shooting and killing his ex-wife Linda Vandervoort at her home several days later.

On the day that Richard Moran discharged his counsel and changed his pleas, he was taking four different kinds of drugs. When the state judge asked Moran if he was taking drugs, he replied that he was on medication. The state judge inquired no further on this issue. The court accepted Moran's waiver of counsel and pleas of guilty, which Moran communicated in a series of monosyllabic responses to leading questions from the court about his legal rights and the charged offenses. In January 1985, a three-judge sentencing panel of the state court sentenced Moran to death. 1

In July 1987, Moran filed a petition in state court for post-conviction relief, alleging that in November 1984 he was not legally competent to waive his right to counsel and to enter pleas of guilty. After an evidentiary hearing in April 1988, the state court concluded that Moran had been competent to waive counsel in November 1984 and that he had failed to prove that his guilty pleas were involuntary. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. 103 Nev. 138, 734 P.2d 712.

The federal district court denied Moran's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On appeal, Moran maintains that he was not legally competent to make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of constitutional rights at the time he discharged his counsel and changed his pleas to guilty.

We review the district court's denial of Moran's habeas petition de novo. Harding v. Lewis, 834 F.2d 853, 856 (9th Cir.1987), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 871, 109 S.Ct. 182, 102 L.Ed.2d 151 (1988) (citing Chatman v. Marquez, 754 F.2d 1531, 1533-34 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 841, 106 S.Ct. 124, 88 L.Ed.2d 101 (1985)). We agree with Moran that the record does not support a conclusion that he was competent to make a valid waiver of constitutional rights. 2

II.

When Moran discharged his counsel and pled guilty, he effectively waived a number of constitutional rights. In particular,

Page 265

Moran waived his right to counsel, to compulsory process, to confront witnesses, to a public trial, to a jury of his peers, and his privilege against self-incrimination. See Chavez v. United States, 656 F.2d 512, 518 (9th Cir.1981); Boykin v. Alabama, 395 U.S. 238, 243, 89 S.Ct. 1709, 1712, 23 L.Ed.2d 274 (1969); Sieling v. Eyman, 478 F.2d 211, 214 (9th Cir.1973). Such an extensive waiver of constitutional rights demands "utmost solicitude" from courts. Sieling, 478 F.2d at 214 (citing Boykin, 395 U.S. at 243, 89 S.Ct. at 1712). We must indulge in every reasonable presumption against waiver of constitutional rights. Evans v. Raines, 800 F.2d 884, 885 (9th Cir.1986) (hereinafter Evans II ).

Due process requires a court to initiate a competency hearing, on its own motion if necessary, whenever it has or should have a good faith doubt about a defendant's competency to waive constitutional rights. Seiling v. Eyman, 478 F.2d 211 (9th Cir.1973) (competency to enter a guilty plea); Chavez v. United States, 656 F.2d 512 (9th Cir.1981) (same); Evans v. Raines, 705 F.2d 1479 (9th Cir.1973) (hereinafter Evans I ) (competency to waive counsel); Harding v. Lewis, 834 F.2d 853 (9th Cir.1987) (same), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 871, 109 S.Ct. 182, 102 L.Ed.2d 151 (1988). A good faith doubt should arise if there is substantial evidence of incompetence. Harding, 834 F.2d at 856 (citing United States v. Veatch, 674 F.2d 1217, 1223 (9th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 456 U.S. 946, 102 S.Ct. 2013, 72 L.Ed.2d 469 (1982)).

In Moran's case, there was substantial evidence available at the time he pled guilty to trigger a good faith doubt about his competency to waive constitutional rights. Moran had attempted suicide only a few months before his plea hearing. 3 In addition, Moran stated at the plea hearing that he wanted to fire his attorney to ensure that no mitigating evidence would be presented on his behalf at sentencing. Reporter's Transcript of Plea Hearing, November 24, 1985 at 11. The transcript of the plea hearing shows that virtually all of Moran's responses to the court's questions were monosyllabic. Furthermore, at the time he discharged his counsel and changed his pleas to guilty, Moran was taking four different kinds of medication, including Inderal, Dilantin, Phenobarbitol, and Vistaril. Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, Exhibit III. 4 Although the transcript shows that Moran advised the court that he was taking medication, no further inquiry was made on this subject. Reporter's Transcript of Plea Hearing, November 24, 1985 at 12.

Given the record in this case, the state court should have entertained a good faith doubt about Moran's competency to make a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of constitutional rights. Due process therefore required the court to hold a hearing to evaluate and determine Moran's competency to waive constitutional rights before it accepted his decision to discharge counsel and change his pleas. This the state court failed to do.

III.

Respondent contends that any error made when the state court failed to inquire into Moran's competency to waive constitutional rights at the plea hearing was cured by the postconviction hearing held more than three years later. We disagree.

Page 266

After the postconviction hearing, the state court ruled that Moran was competent to waive counsel and that he failed to meet his burden of proving that his pleas were involuntary. For two reasons, this ruling did not constitute a valid finding that, in November 1984, Moran was competent to waive his constitutional rights. First, the state court's postconviction ruling was premised on the wrong legal standard of competency. Second, as we discuss in part B. below, an examination of the record in light of the correct legal standard does not show that Moran was competent to waive his constitutional rights.

A.

It is unclear whether the presumption of correctness accorded to a state court's findings of fact under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) 5 extends to a state court's finding that a defendant was competent to waive constitutional rights. 6 Even if the presumption of correctness could apply to a state court's finding that a defendant was competent to waive constitutional rights, it cannot apply in Moran's case. This is so because, as the following discussion demonstrates, the state court applied the wrong legal standard to evaluate Moran's competency to waive constitutional rights.

The legal standard used to determine a defendant's competency to stand trial is different from the standard used to determine competency to waive constitutional rights. A defendant is competent to waive counsel or plead guilty only if he has the capacity for "reasoned choice" among the alternatives available to him. See...

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20 practice notes
  • Moran v. Godinez, No. 91-15609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • November 15, 1994
    ...in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The district court denied the petition. We reversed in Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263 (9th Cir.1992). We concluded the state court should have entertained a good faith doubt during the November 28, 1984 change-of-plea proceedin......
  • Godinez v. Moran, No. 92-725
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 24, 1993
    ...to adopt competency standards that are more elaborate than the Dusky formulation, the Due Process Clause does not impose them. Pp. ____. 972 F.2d 263 (CA9 1992), reversed and remanded. THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SOUTER,......
  • Moran v. Godinez, No. 91-15609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • June 2, 1995
    ...in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The district court denied the petition. We reversed in Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263 (9th Cir.1992). We concluded the state court should have entertained a good faith doubt during the November 28, 1984 change-of-plea proceedin......
  • U.S. v. Perez, Nos. 94-10313
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 2, 1995
    ...113 S.Ct. at 1777. (quoting Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 1023, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938)); see also Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263, 265 (9th Cir.1992) ("We must indulge in every reasonable presumption against waiver of constitutional rights."). His case could only be hurt......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
20 cases
  • Moran v. Godinez, No. 91-15609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • November 15, 1994
    ...in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The district court denied the petition. We reversed in Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263 (9th Cir.1992). We concluded the state court should have entertained a good faith doubt during the November 28, 1984 change-of-plea proceedin......
  • Godinez v. Moran, No. 92-725
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 24, 1993
    ...to adopt competency standards that are more elaborate than the Dusky formulation, the Due Process Clause does not impose them. Pp. ____. 972 F.2d 263 (CA9 1992), reversed and remanded. THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, and SOUTER,......
  • Moran v. Godinez, No. 91-15609
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • June 2, 1995
    ...in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. The district court denied the petition. We reversed in Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263 (9th Cir.1992). We concluded the state court should have entertained a good faith doubt during the November 28, 1984 change-of-plea proceedin......
  • U.S. v. Perez, Nos. 94-10313
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 2, 1995
    ...113 S.Ct. at 1777. (quoting Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 1023, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (1938)); see also Moran v. Godinez, 972 F.2d 263, 265 (9th Cir.1992) ("We must indulge in every reasonable presumption against waiver of constitutional rights."). His case could only be hurt......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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