Morris v. Painter, No. 29758.

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation211 W.Va. 681,567 S.E.2d 916
PartiesClaude Ray MORRIS, Petitioner Below, Appellant, v. Howard PAINTER, Warden, Mount Olive Jail and Correctional Complex, Respondent Below, Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 29758.
Decision Date03 July 2002

567 S.E.2d 916
211 W.Va.
681

Claude Ray MORRIS, Petitioner Below, Appellant,
v.
Howard PAINTER, Warden, Mount Olive Jail and Correctional Complex, Respondent Below, Appellee

No. 29758.

Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.

Submitted May 22, 2002.

Decided July 3, 2002.


Letitia Neese Chafin, Esq., Law Office of H. Truman Chafin, Williamson, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellant.

C. Jane Moran, Esq., Williamson, West Virginia, Amicus Curiae.

Darrell V. McGraw, Jr., Attorney General, Stephen J. Small, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorney for Appellee.

567 S.E.2d 917
PER CURIAM

This appeal was brought by Claude Ray Morris, appellant/petitioner below, from an order of the Circuit Court of Mingo County denying his request for habeas corpus relief.1 In his petition for appeal, Mr. Morris assigned error to the circuit court's ruling that he was competent to stand trial.2 After reviewing the record and listening to the arguments of the parties, we reverse the circuit court's denial of habeas relief.

I.

The record indicates that on September 19, 1991, Mr. Morris killed his brother and sister-in-law, maliciously wounded his niece, and assaulted his nephew. He was apprehended several days after the offenses were committed. After his arrest and indictment Mr. Morris was initially found incompetent to stand trial and was referred to a State mental institution. In 1993, and again on October 24, 1995, the trial court concluded that Mr. Morris was competent to stand trial. At the second competency hearing, October 24, 1995, there were conflicting evidentiary reports on Mr. Morris' competency. Nevertheless, the trial court determined that the petitioner was competent to stand trial, and on October 27, 1995, three days later, a jury found Mr. Morris guilty of first degree murder in causing the deaths of his brother and sister-in-law. He was also found guilty of the malicious wounding of his niece and assault on his nephew. Mr. Morris was sentenced to life imprisonment without mercy.

On March 22, 1999, Mr. Morris filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the circuit court, naming the Warden of the Mount Olive Jail and Correctional Complex as the respondent.3 In his habeas corpus action, Mr. Morris, by counsel, argued before the circuit court that he was incompetent at the time of his trial, and that he was unable to assist his counsel in his defense at trial, as well as in the habeas corpus action. The circuit court again found that Mr. Morris was competent at the time of his trial and denied habeas relief. This appeal followed.

II.

Mr. Morris challenges the circuit court's denial of his petition for habeas relief. We have observed that "[w]hen considering whether such a petition requesting post-conviction habeas corpus relief has stated grounds warranting the issuance of the writ, courts typically are afforded broad discretion." State ex rel. Valentine v. Watkins, 208 W.Va. 26, 31, 537 S.E.2d 647, 652 (2000) (citations omitted). In Syllabus Point 1 of State ex rel. Postelwaite v. Bechtold, 158 W.Va. 479, 212 S.E.2d 69 (1975), we held that "[f]indings of fact made by a trial court in a post-conviction habeas corpus proceeding will not be set aside or reversed on appeal by this Court unless such findings are clearly wrong." However, "[w]here the issue on an appeal from the circuit court is clearly a question of law or involving an interpretation of a statute, we apply a de novo standard of review." Syllabus Point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A. L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995). See Stuckey v. Trent, 202 W.Va. 498, 501, 505 S.E.2d 417, 420 (1998) (a circuit court's "rulings upon questions of law are reviewed de novo.") (citations omitted).

III.

This appeal presents the issue of whether Mr. Morris is entitled to habeas relief on the grounds that he was mentally incompetent at the time of his trial, and was consequently unable to assist in his own defense.4 Our cases are clear in holding that

567 S.E.2d 918
"[i]t is a fundamental guaranty of due process that a defendant cannot be tried or convicted for a crime while he or she is mentally incompetent." Syllabus Point 5, in part, State v. Hatfield, 186 W.Va. 507, 413 S.E.2d 162 (1991). This Court has also made it clear that "[n]o person may be subjected to trial on a criminal charge when, by virtue of mental incapacity, the person is unable to consult with his attorney and to assist in the preparation of his defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding of the nature and object of the proceedings against him." Syllabus Point 1, State v. Milam, 159 W.Va. 691, 226 S.E.2d 433 (1976)

The relevant facts of this case show that, shortly after Mr. Morris was arrested in September of 1991, he was initially found incompetent to stand trial, and transferred to a State mental facility. On March 3, 1993, the trial judge held a competency hearing as required, and ruled that Mr. Morris was competent to stand trial. However, the trial did not occur immediately after the finding of competency. It appears that the trial was delayed because Mr. Morris fell and broke his hip while in jail. Following hospitalization for his broken hip, Mr. Morris was returned to the county jail, but was shortly thereafter returned to the State mental institution.

In August of 1995, a psychiatrist for the State again provided a report indicating that Mr. Morris was competent to stand trial. Mr. Morris, through counsel, then requested an evaluation by independent psychiatrists, which the court permitted. Subsequently, on October 16, 1995, both Mr. Morris' psychiatrist and psychologist submitted reports to the court that indicated Mr. Morris was incompetent to stand trial. A principal finding made by Mr. Morris' experts was that he was not known to have spoken a word since his arrest in 1991.5 Nevertheless, on October 24, 1995, the circuit court ruled that Mr. Morris was competent to stand trial. The trial began on October 25, 1995, and concluded on October 27, 1995.

We are concerned with the procedure used by the trial court in finding Mr. Morris competent, and with the results of that procedure. As pointed out in the amicus brief, Mr. Morris' psychiatrist was not able to attend the competency hearing or the trial that was to immediately follow the competency hearing. The trial court refused to continue the competency hearing to allow for the psychiatrist's attendance at a competency hearing at a later date. Also, following the trial court's ruling on competency, the court also refused to continue the trial, but did, however, allow Mr. Morris' psychiatrist to testify at trial via telephone. While we do not have a per se objection to such a procedure at trial, we believe that under the circumstances of this case it was critical for Mr. Morris' psychiatrist to have been present at the competency hearing to fully explain to the trial court the basis of his determination that Mr. Morris was incompetent. At the time of the competency hearing Mr. Morris was receiving 150mg. of Thorazine, 20mg. of Prozac and 10mg. of Buspar daily. In addition, Mr. Morris had not spoken to anyone, including counsel, since his arrest in 1991. Clearly these factors militated against rushing the competency hearing, and favored a finding of incompetency.

We, therefore, believe that Mr. Morris' competency hearing was deficient. This Court has held that "a defendant need only demonstrate that he or she was denied an adequate procedure for determining mental competency after the trial court was presented with evidence sufficient to prompt good faith doubt regarding incompetency." State v. Sanders, 209 W.Va. 367, 377, 549 S.E.2d 40, 50 (2001) (citation omitted). Mr. Morris, through counsel, has made such a showing in this case. Moreover, our independent review of the record shows that the preponderating evidence demonstrates Mr. Morris' incompetency

567 S.E.2d 919
at the time of trial, inasmuch as his persistent mental state resulted in his inability to communicate with his lawyers

The procedure for addressing a defendant who has been found incompetent to stand trial is set forth in W.Va.Code, 27-6A-2(b)[1983].6 In the event Mr. Morris is found to be incompetent for a second trial, our decision in State v. Bias, 177 W.Va. 302, 352 S.E.2d 52 (1986) outlines the possible course of action to be taken:

A person who has been accused of a crime may not be committed involuntarily to a mental institution for an indefinite period of time solely for the purpose of determining and obtaining such person's competency to stand trial. Instead, after a reasonable period of time to determine the accused's competency to stand trial, and if incompetency is found, after a further reasonable period of time for the accused to attain such competency, the State, to satisfy equal protection and procedural due process requirements, must release the accused from confinement in the mental institution or commence civil commitment proceedings. In the civil commitment proceedings the State must show by clear, cogent and convincing evidence that the accused, like a person not accused of a crime, is likely to cause serious harm to himself or to others and should, therefore, be committed to a mental institution because of such propensity to do harm.

Bias, 177 W.Va. at 306, 352 S.E.2d at 56.

IV.

In view of the foregoing, we find that the circuit court was clearly wrong in finding that Mr. Morris was competent to stand trial on October 25, 1995. Consequently, Mr. Morris' convictions and sentences are vacated. This matter is remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings pursuant to W.Va.Code, 27-6A-2.

Reversed and Remanded.

Justice MAYNARD, deeming himself disqualified, did not participate in the decision of this case.

Judge IRENE C. BERGER, sitting by temporary assignment.

DAVIS, Chief Justice, dissenting:

In this case the appellant, Claude Ray Morris, presented a single...

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6 practice notes
  • Birchfield v. Zen's Dev., LLC, No. 20-0075
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 16, 2021
    ...("Assignments of error that are not argued in the briefs on appeal may be deemed by this Court to be waived."); Morris v. Painter , 211 W. Va. 681, 685, 567 S.E.2d 916, 920 (2002) (citing cases refusing to address issues not properly briefed or preserved for appeal); In re Edward B. , 210 W......
  • Dellinger v. Pediatrix Med. Grp., P.C., No. 12–1069.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 25, 2013
    ...authority, are not considered on appeal.” State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 302, 470 S.E.2d 613, 621 (1996). See also Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 685, 567 S.E.2d 916, 920 (2002) (citing cases refusing to address issues not properly briefed or preserved for appeal). Nevertheless, we find......
  • State v. Donley, No. 31649.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 2, 2004
    ...460, 513 S.E.2d 676, 687 (1998) (quoting State v. Crabtree, 198 W.Va. 620, 631, 482 S.E.2d 605, 616 (1996)); see also Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 686, 567 S.E.2d 916, 921 (2002) (Davis, Chief Justice, Based upon the foregoing analysis, we find that the Appellant is not entitled to rel......
  • Snider v. Fox, No. 32767.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 27, 2006
    ...a de novo standard of review'." Syllabus point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995). Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 682, 567 S.E.2d 916, 917 (2002). See also Syl. pt. 1, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't of West Virginia, 195 W.Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Birchfield v. Zen's Dev., LLC, No. 20-0075
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • April 16, 2021
    ...("Assignments of error that are not argued in the briefs on appeal may be deemed by this Court to be waived."); Morris v. Painter , 211 W. Va. 681, 685, 567 S.E.2d 916, 920 (2002) (citing cases refusing to address issues not properly briefed or preserved for appeal); In re Edward B. , 210 W......
  • Dellinger v. Pediatrix Med. Grp., P.C., No. 12–1069.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • October 25, 2013
    ...authority, are not considered on appeal.” State v. LaRock, 196 W.Va. 294, 302, 470 S.E.2d 613, 621 (1996). See also Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 685, 567 S.E.2d 916, 920 (2002) (citing cases refusing to address issues not properly briefed or preserved for appeal). Nevertheless, we find......
  • State v. Donley, No. 31649.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 2, 2004
    ...460, 513 S.E.2d 676, 687 (1998) (quoting State v. Crabtree, 198 W.Va. 620, 631, 482 S.E.2d 605, 616 (1996)); see also Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 686, 567 S.E.2d 916, 921 (2002) (Davis, Chief Justice, Based upon the foregoing analysis, we find that the Appellant is not entitled to rel......
  • Snider v. Fox, No. 32767.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • January 27, 2006
    ...a de novo standard of review'." Syllabus point 1, Chrystal R.M. v. Charlie A.L., 194 W.Va. 138, 459 S.E.2d 415 (1995). Morris v. Painter, 211 W.Va. 681, 682, 567 S.E.2d 916, 917 (2002). See also Syl. pt. 1, Appalachian Power Co. v. State Tax Dep't of West Virginia, 195 W.Va. 573, 466 S.E.2d......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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