People v. Pennington, Cr. 9339

Citation58 Cal.Rptr. 374,426 P.2d 942,66 Cal.2d 508
Decision Date27 April 1967
Docket NumberCr. 9339
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Parties, 426 P.2d 942 The PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. Robert Eugene PENNINGTON, Defendant and Appellant. In Bank

J. Perry Langford, San Diego, under appointment by the Supreme Court, and Langford, Langford & Lane, San Diego, for defendant and appellant.

Thomas C. Lynch, Atty. Gen., William E. James, Asst. Atty. Gen., C. Anthony Collins and Philip M. Rosten, Deputy Attys. Gen., for plaintiff and respondent.

PETERS, Justice.

This is an automatic appeal (Pen.Code, § 1239, subd. (b)) from a judgment of the Superior Court of Imperial County, after trial before a jury, on verdicts finding defendant guilty of murder in the first degree (Pen.Code, §§ 187, 189), finding that he was sane at the time of the crime (Pen.Code, § 1026), and imposing the death penalty (Pen.Code, § 190). Defendant was also convicted of felony child stealing of his 10-year-old victim (Pen.Code, § 278), of lewd and lascivious conduct with a child under age 14 (Pen.Code, § 288), and of unlawfully furnishing drugs to a minor (Bus. & Prof.Code, § 4234). 1

We have concluded that the judgment must be reversed in its entirety because under the rule established by Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S.Ct. 836, 15 L.Ed.2d 815, defendant was improperly denied a hearing to determine if he was sufficiently competent and sane to stand trial.

Defendant entered pleas of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity. Trial commenced, with the impaneling of a jury, on May 24, 1965. When the prosecution began presenting its case, defendant on occasions interrupted the trial with comments or curses. At the beginning of a session of trial held outside the presence of the jury June 16, 1965, defendant announced to the court that he refused to have a lawyer. When defendant broke into curses a recess was called and, later, a continuance was granted. Thereafter, defense counsel moved the court to suspend the trial pursuant to section 1368 of the Penal Code and to conduct a hearing on the issue of defendant's present sanity. 2 In support of this motion defense counsel submitted an affidavit of a clinical psychologist, Edward J. Sussman, who had examined defendant and concluded he was at that time insane.

The trial judge then took evidence to aid him in determining if he should declare that a doubt existed as to defendant's competence to stand trial. (See People v. Ashley, 59 Cal.2d 339, 363, 29 Cal.Rptr. 16, 379 P.2d 496.) Mr. Sussman testified for the defense. He stated he was a senior psychologist at Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk and had held this post for five and a half years. Prior thereto he had served as senior psychologist at Atascadero State Hospital for three years. He had a masters degree in psychology from New York University and had studied three years at the University of Southern California towards a doctorate degree. He was certified as a psychologist by the state and had ten years' practicl experience in clinical psychology. Sussman stated that in his opinion defendant was incapable of understanding the nature of the proceedings against him and of assisting his attorney in his defense. He based this opinion on observations of defendant in the courthouse that same day, a 10-to-20-minute examination of defendant that morning, and previous contact he had had with defendant in 1958 when he had treated defendant as a patient at Atascadero State Hospital. In 1958 Sussman had diagnosed defendant as probably schizophrenic and he had predicted homicide and suicide by defendant. He found defendant's condition in 1965 more paranoid in character than his schizophrenia at Atascadero. Sussman testified that when he examined defendant that morning he had observed inappropriate laughter, a symptom of schizophrenia. Defendant had told Sussman then that he, defendant, was hearing voices (hallucinations), and Sussman believed defendant was telling the truth. Sussman stated he had observed defendant go into a fit of 'psychotic furor' in the courthouse earlier that day while trial was in progress. A fit of psychotic furor, he explained, was a maniacal and venomous outburst of violence of short duration, rarely longer than an hour. Defendant's fits of psychotic furor, Sussman said, were probably the result of delusions and fantasies. It was typical of the schizophrenic to be restrained one moment and violent the next. Defendant could not possibly be feigning these outbursts, Sussman concluded. Sussman's testimony also disclosed that defendant had been treated by a psychiatrist in the Midwest in the 1960s. Defense counsel stated that this psychiatrist, Dr. John A. Larson, had also examined defendant and had concluded that defendant was incompetent to stand trial. Defense counsel said he would call Dr. Larson to testify but for the fact that Larson would only echo Sussman's conclusions.

Defense counsel also told the judge, '(T)his man (defendant) is not able to cooperate with me. * * *' While the prosecuting attorney was arguing in opposition to the motion, defendant interrupted. The judge threatened to have defendant gagged. Defendant then broke into obscenities and oaths and four deputies subdued him and attempted to gag him. A recess was granted.

When court reconvened, the judge announced that he had ordered defendant gagged and that the motion for a sanity hearing was denied. The judge said he had no doubts that defendant was capable of understanding the nature of the proceedings and assisting in his defense. The next day of trial the attorneys reargued the merits of the motion for a sanity hearing. Defense counsel told the court he had discovered defendant weeping in his jail cell with abrasions on his wrists and that defendant had again been suffering the hallucination of voices speaking to him. Defendant had also been observed displaying his penis to spectators at the trial and shouting to the spectators to come and bring Cracker Jack. 3 Defense counsel offered to place in evidence medical reports on defendant from Atascadero in 1958. The During the remainder of the trial, evidence that defendant was presently insane was forthcoming. The psychiatrist, Dr. Larson, testified that in his opinion defendant was incapable of assisting in his defense and that his mental condition at trial was worse than it had been when appellant was a patient of Dr. Larsons at a prison mental hospital in Iowa in 1961--1962. Dr. Larson stated that defendant was markedly hallucinating--hearing voices--and that he was not feigning these symptoms. 4 Larson also reviewed defendant's medical history of schizophrenia paranoid, including Dr. Larson's own previous diagnoses. The doctor found defendant at the time of trial suffering from an acute mental sickness in which he was delusional and out of contact with reality. He stated defendant was hearing voices in the courtroom, frequently the voice of the devil. Dr. Larson also testified that head injuries to defendant may have resulted in brain damages which could be responsible for his recurring long headaches during which he experienced the hallucination of seeing green lights.

[426 P.2d 946] judge stated, 'This proceeding is not to try the sanity or insanity, but to determine whether or not this Court has a doubt, and this Court does not have a doubt and has not had a doubt.' The judge explained that he denied the motion for sanity hearing primarily on the basis of reports of four court-appointed psychiatrists, all of whom found defendant to be presently sane, and on the basis of his own observations of defendant during the trial. The judge told defense counsel he need not make another motion for sanity hearing. The judge correctly explained that it was his duty to examine all evidence and other indications pointing to possible present insanity of defendant until sentence was pronounced and to order a sanity hearing on his own motion if a doubt did arise. After sentencing, the judge stated he had never during the entire proceedings doubted defendant's mental competence.

Dr. Robert G. Kaplan, a consulting psychologist, testified as to the results of psychological tests he administered during the weeks of trial and reported an interview he had with defendant. He stated that defendant was, during the trial, actively hallucinating and grossly insane and that defendant heard voices and imagined being visited by a dead grandmother and by the devil, hallucinations which reduced defendant to tears. Dr. Kaplan stated that defendant's head injuries caused such headaches that defendant could not rationally speak. Dr. Kaplan considered it extremely probable that injuries to defendant's head had caused brain damage. He stated that defendant was not feigning his mental condition. 5

There was also further evidence of sanity. The court-appointed psychiatrists repeated some of their findings on the witness stand. Defendant's outbursts in court revealed that he was well aware of the nature of the proceedings at various moments. He made several lucid comments, including giving thanks to the jury for each verdict they brought in against him. 6

The leading case dealing with section 1368 is People v. Merkouris, 52 Cal.2d 672, 344 P.2d 1, certiorari denied 361 U.S. 943, 80 S.Ct. 411, 4 L.Ed.2d 364. (See also People v. Lindsey, 56 Cal.2d 324, 14 Cal.Rptr. 678, 363 P.2d 910.) In Merkouris, the defendant had previously been found insane at a section 1368 hearing. He was hospitalized at Atascadero and then released, certified as sane. At the trial the defense attorney stated that defendant was incapable of cooperating in his own defense, and pointed out to the court defendant's peculiar conduct in the courtroom. Two psychiatrists reported defendant was sane, and the court had before it the certification by Atascadero authorities. No psychiatrist testified that defendant was insane.

The opinion states: 'A defe...

To continue reading

Request your trial
247 cases
  • People v. Mickel, S133510
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 19, 2016
    ...[mental competence] may be said to appear as a matter of law or where there is an abuse of discretion." (See People v. Pennington (1967) 66 Cal.2d 508, 518, 58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942 (Pennington ).) When the court is presented with "substantial evidence of present mental incompetence,"......
  • People v. Claxton
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 2, 1982
    ...was adduced." (People v. Laudermilk (1967) 67 Cal.2d 272, 283, fn. 10, 61 Cal.Rptr. 644, 431 P.2d 228; People v. Pennington (1967) 66 Cal.2d 508, 518, 58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942.) IX Reasonable At the beginning of voir dire, the trial judge read a number of instructions to the prospecti......
  • People v. Hill
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • July 25, 1967
    ...of incompetence that must appear in the record before the court's failure to order a sanity hearing may be urged as error. (People v. Pennington, supra, 66 A.C. 579, 590, 58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942.) Instructions to the Jury. Defendant contends that the court erred in instructing the ju......
  • People v. Cisneros, Cr. 10333
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • October 1, 1973
    ...52 Cal.2d 672, 678--681, 344 P.2d 1, cert. den. (1960), 361 U.S. 943, 80 S.Ct. 411, 4 L.Ed.2d 364. Cf. People v. Pennington (1967), 66 Cal.2d 508, 515--521, 58 Cal.Rptr. 374, 426 P.2d 942.) Assuming the existence of such a doubt, the defendant by stipulating that the court resolve the matte......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT