People v. Pugach

Decision Date14 March 1962
Citation33 Misc.2d 938,225 N.Y.S.2d 822
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of New York v. Burton N. PUGACH, Defendant.
CourtNew York County Court

Isidore Dollinger, Dist. Atty., New York City (Bertram R. Gelfand and Vincent A. Vitale, Asst. Dist. Attys., New York City, of counsel), for the People.

Burton N. Pugach, pro se, and Frances Kahn, New York City, for defendant.


In aid of sentence, defendant subsequent to being adjudicated guilty of a felony by a jury trial was committed to Kings County Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. This Commitment was pursuant to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure. In accordance with the requirements of said Code, Dr. Emil G. Winkler and Dr. Edward Podolsky were designated as the examining psychiatrists charged with the duty of ascertaining the mental condition of defendant at the time of their examination.

The determination of guilt against Pugach was arrived at on July 14th, 1961. On the same day he was admitted at Kings County Hospital. On September 19th, 1961, the report of the examining doctors was filed.

Both defense counsel and the District Attorney were served with copies of the report rendered by Doctors Winkler and Podolsky, as provided in Section 662-a of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The diagnosis and conclusion set forth by the aforesaid psychiatrists in the report of September 19th, 1961 was as follows:

'DIAGNOSIS: Schizophrenic Reaction--Paranoid Type' 'CONCLUSION: It is our opinion Burton Pugach is presently INSANE, not imbecile and is INCAPABLE of understanding the charge against him, the proceedings, and of making his defense.'

After receipt of a copy of the aforesaid report, the District Attorney moved, pursuant to Section 662-a, Code of Criminal Procedure, to controvert said report. A sanity hearing was then directed.

The issue presented at this hearing was whether the facts which would be presented to the Court would constitute a valid basis for acceptance or rejection of the report rendered by Doctors Winkler and Podolsky. Upon the determination of this issue would rest whether or not defendant's mental condition permitted the conduct of any further criminal proceedings involving him, at this time.

The law of this State is quite clear as to the criteria to be applied to a defendant in evaluating whether his mental condition prevents his being a party to criminal proceedings. The basic standards to be applied are a matter of statute. (Section 1120, Penal Law) Repeated judicial determinations establish that under our law a medical diagnosis of mental illness does not, in and of itself, immunize one from criminal responsibility. In order to be excused from being a party to criminal proceedings as a result of a mental condition, it must be shown that the condition from which a defendant suffers is of such a nature that his reasoning power is impaired to the extent that he cannot understand the nature of the charges against him, and make a defense thereto. Mental disturbance of a nature which does not affect one's reasoning powers, set forth in our law, cannot act as a shield to a defendant. (People v. Silverman, 181 N.Y. 235, 73 N.E. 980; People v. Wolfe, 278 App.Div. 967, 105 N.Y.S.2d 594, aff'd 303 N.Y. 752, 103 N.E.2d 540; People ex rel. Ryan v. Murphy, 255 App.Div. 748, 6 N.Y.S.2d 875; People ex rel . Peabody v. Chanler, 133 App.Div. 159, 162, 117 N.Y.S. 322, 324, aff'd 196 N.Y. 525, 89 N.E. 1109, 25 L.R.A.,N.S., 946; People v. Johnson, 13 Misc.2d 376, 169 N.Y.S.2d 217; People v. Wolfe, 198 Misc . 695, 103 N.Y.S.2d 479; People v. Irwin, 166 Misc. 751, 763-767, 4 N.Y.S.2d 548, 559-563).

The hearings encompassed a considerable period of time, during which a great deal of testimony was adduced, comprising over 2,200 pages. All of this testimony has been carefully reviewed.

On the second day of the hearing, defendant indicated to the Court that he wished to represent himself in these proceedings. Prior to the commencement of the hearing, both defendant and his counsel had apprised the Court of the fact that defendant contemplated such an application. However when the hearings commenced neither defendant nor counsel made such an application. When the application was made, it was accompanied by a declaration by defendant that was clearly geared to lay the groundwork for a claim that the failure to mistrial the proceedings and recommence them at some future date constituted reversible error.

The application of the defendant presented a novel situation. A situation wherein a defendant allegedly found to be insane by examining psychiatrists seeks leave of the Court to represent himself, where his purpose is to attempt to uphold the conclusions of the examining psychiatrists and confirm a diagnosis that he is insane, and incapable of understanding the charge against him and making a defense thereto.

Section 8, Code of Criminal Procedure, provides that a defendant has a right, in a criminal action, 'to be allowed counsel as in civil actions, or he may appear and defend in person and with counsel.' It is this section of our Code that the defendant invoked in support of his application.

While at first glance, as stated, the application of the defendant appears novel, a search of existing authorities reveals that this applicant is not without some precedent, in another jurisdiction.

In re Vanauken reported in 10 N.J.Eq. 186, decided in 1854, a commission in the nature of a writ de lunaticio inquirendo was issued to inquire of the lunacy of one, Daniel Vanauken. The commission was executed and Vanauken was found to be a lunatic and of unsound mind. Application was thereafter made by the alleged lunatic, in person, to traverse the inquisition. The Court held that the question of whether the alleged lunatic may traverse the inquisition is a matter addressed to the discretion of the Court, and if upon a review of the evidence there exists a reasonable doubt as to the correctness of the finding, the traverse should be allowed .

In passing upon the application of the defendant to represent himself in the instant proceeding, this Court considered the following facts:

First: That the defendant was a former attorney, actively engaged in the practice of the law, for a period of approximately 10 years. That he was a member of the Bar of this State as recently as 1960, his disbarment resulting from a conviction for violation of Section 1897, Subdivision 5, Penal Law.

Second: The successful contravention by defendant of the Bellevue Hospital Report dated April 25th, 1960, which report indicated the defendant to be insane and incapable of understanding the charge, indictment, and proceedings, and of making a defense thereto.

Third: The conduct of defendant during his trial under indictment 1332-1959. This proceeding was held before this Court. It consumed approximately fourteen weeks ending as recently as July 14th, 1961. During that trial the Court had the opportunity of conversing with defendant on numerous occasions and of observing him over a protracted period.

Fourth: The verdict of the jury convicting the defendant of the Counts alleged in the indictment 1332-1959, a verdict specifically rejecting the plea of insanity interposed as a defense by defendant.

Fifth: That in between the period between the verdict of the jury, on July 14th, 1961 and the commencement of the instant sanity hearing on October 25th, 1961, defendant pro se had prepared and submitted to this court motions in arrest of judgment, attacking the sufficiency of the indictment, and seeking other relief. One of these motions comprised over 100 pages, setting forth 22 separate and distinct points of law in support of defendant's contentions therein. While not passing upon the validity of the questions of law raised, nevertheless the arguments presented in all of these papers reveal clear thinking, the capacity for lucid and coherent expression, unimpaired reasoning powers, an astounding memory, and a complete comprehension of the import of all of the proceedings that had theretofore taken place, and of defendant's then legal status. The oral argument by defendant in support of his application for permission to represent himself in the pending proceedings, was forceful, rational, pressing and cogent; and clearly demonstrated to this Court defendant's ability to capably and intelligently represent himself.

Under the circumstances the Court could not in good conscience possibly justify denying defendant his statutory and constitutional right to represent himself.

Assuming, arguendo, that the hearing resulted in a determination that defendant is in such a mental state as to render him incapable of understanding the nature of the charge, indictment, proceedings or of making a defense thereto, then nothing will have been lost, since the District Attorney will have failed in his effort to controvert the report of the Kings County Hospital. On the other hand, should the District Attorney succeed in controverting the report, then it will have been determined that the defendant was in such a state of sanity as to have an absolute legal right to have represented himself. Under the latter circumstance the Court would have committed grave error in denying him this right. Further, if defendant were in the state alleged in the report of Kings County Hospital certainly his conduct of the hearing would serve to cast light upon the validity of the finding expressed in the report. After all, in the last analysis--what we are actually concerned with is defendant's capacity to understand and cope with the criminal proceedings he is faced with in the Courtroom, and not the problems presented to him in the hospital examining room.

Nevertheless, while the Court granted the application of defendant to represent himself, the Court did direct that Frances Kahn, Esq., the defendant's attorney of record under indictment 1332--1959 should remain at the...

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7 cases
  • United States ex rel. Pugach v. Mancusi
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • 12 Marzo 1970
    ...disability manifested itself primarily in his social relations rather than in his business or legal dealings. See People v. Pugach, 33 Misc.2d 938, 942, 225 N.Y.S.2d 822 (Bronx County Ct. Evaluating all the facts and circumstances herein and resolving the issues of credibility in connection......
  • United States v. Herold
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of New York
    • 31 Diciembre 1962
    ...I shall list some not relevant, in my judgment, to the question here with the view they may be helpful to other judges: People v. Pugach, 33 Misc.2d 938, 225 N.Y.S.2d 822; People ex rel. Pugach v. Slattery, 14 A.D.2d 688, 219 N.Y.S.2d 778; 15 A.D.2d 577; 15 A.D.2d 679, 224 N.Y.S.2d 155; Peo......
  • Roberts v. County Court of Wyoming County
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • 29 Junio 1972
    ...have his hearing before a judge other than Judge Martinis, who presided at Pugach's trial and at the original sanity hearing (33 Misc.2d 938, 225 N.Y.S.2d 822). The ordered mental capacity hearing was commenced in Bronx County before Acting Supreme Court Justice Melia on March 6, 1972 and t......
  • Cappetta v. State
    • United States
    • Florida District Court of Appeals
    • 7 Diciembre 1967
    ...own defense in a sanity hearing which is to determine the legal responsibility for the prisoner's acts. People v. Pugach, Bronx County Ct.1962, 33 Misc.2d 938, 942, 225 N.Y.S.2d 822, 826; People v. Cunningham, Bronx County Ct.1954, 2 Misc.2d 162, 164, 134 N.Y.S.2d 212, 215, appeal dismissed......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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