Sangster v. State, 70

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation312 Md. 560,541 A.2d 637
Docket NumberNo. 70,70
PartiesSigismund Nathaniel SANGSTER v. STATE of Maryland. ,
Decision Date01 September 1987

Page 560

312 Md. 560
541 A.2d 637
Sigismund Nathaniel SANGSTER
STATE of Maryland.
No. 70, Sept. Term, 1987.
Court of Appeals of Maryland.
May 27, 1988.

Page 561

Arthur A. DeLano, Jr., Asst. Public Defender (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Richard B. Rosenblatt, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Page 562



This case involves the procedure by which a trial court determines the competency of an accused to stand trial. The issue is whether a trial judge may, over objection by the accused, consider in written report form the opinions as to the accused's competency expressed by psychiatrists who examined the accused pursuant to Md.Code (1982, 1987 Cum.Supp.), § 12-104 of the Health-General Article (H-[541 A.2d 638] G). At the pretrial competency hearing in the instant matter the petitioner presented expert testimony that he was not competent to be tried. Under these circumstances the petitioner contends that H-G § 12-103(a) and constitutional procedural due process each bar trial court consideration of the written reports unless the State also produces the opining physicians in person as witnesses subject to cross-examination.

In May of 1985 a team of Prince George's County police officers executed a search warrant for marijuana at an apartment occupied by the petitioner, Sigismund Nathaniel Sangster (Sangster), who barricaded himself in the apartment's rear bedroom. Through the closed bedroom door Sangster fired shots which wounded two of the officers. The police responded by shooting through the door, thereby wounding Sangster. After approximately five hours Sangster emerged from the bedroom, was disarmed and taken into custody.

He was indicted on twenty-one counts, including four counts of assault with intent to murder. Defense counsel moved for a determination of whether Sangster was incompetent to stand trial. 1 Sangster also, through counsel,

Page 563

pleaded that when the alleged crimes were committed he was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity. 2 The circuit court ordered that Sangster be sent to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center (Perkins) for competency and responsibility determinations. Sangster was admitted to Perkins on January 23, 1986. According to a forensic conference note dictated February 3, 1986, each of four psychiatrists concluded that Sangster was competent and responsible. That forensic conference note, signed by one of the participating staff psychiatrists, was sent under cover of a letter dated February 4, 1986, signed by the Superintendent of Perkins and by that same staff psychiatrist, to the circuit judge who had ordered the examination. The letter and conference note were filed on February 19, 1986, in the court clerk's file of original papers in this case. 3

The trial on the merits of this case was set for February 24, 1986. Prior to that morning's proceedings on the record defense counsel had advised the court that he intended to produce expert testimony as to Sangster's incompetency. On the morning of trial a competency hearing was held at which a psychiatrist called by Sangster testified that the accused was incompetent. Sangster then took the stand and testified on direct and cross-examination.

Page 564

After the defense indicated that it had no further witnesses, the court asked the State if it had any witnesses. Thereupon the following exchange occurred which comprises the ruling under review in this appeal:

[STATE'S ATTORNEY]: No, Your Honor, I don't have.

If you have a copy of the report from Clifton T. Perkins--

THE COURT: I have it. It says that they are unanimously convinced that he understands the nature and the object of these proceedings, and he's able to assist in his own defense.

[541 A.2d 639] MR. SLATKIN: Your Honor, I'm going to object to the Court's notice and reading of their evaluation. All we have is a one or two page conclusionary statement made by the doctors with no basis in facts. I certainly believe that an opportunity to cross-examine their conclusions is more than warranted in this case.

THE COURT: All right. Anything else?

MR. SLATKIN: No, sir.

THE COURT: I'm convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he does understand the nature and the object of these proceedings. And I--and he's able to assist in his own defense.

In a jury trial Sangster was found guilty on a number of the charges against him and was also found to be responsible. The various consecutive sentences imposed on Sangster total 111 years.

The Court of Special Appeals affirmed. Sangster v. State, 70 Md.App. 456, 521 A.2d 811 (1987). On that appeal Sangster contended that the trial court had violated the mandate of H-G § 12-103(a) which provides:

(a) Hearing.--If, before or during a trial, the defendant in a criminal case appears to the court to be incompetent to stand trial or the defendant alleges incompetence to stand trial, the court shall determine, on evidence

Page 565

presented on the record, whether the defendant is incompetent to stand trial. 4

Sangster's point was that the report was not "evidence presented on the record." Sangster further argued that, under Jones v. State, 280 Md. 282, 372 A.2d 1064 (1977), the report from Perkins could not be considered by the trial judge in making his determination. 5 Absent that foundation, he contended, the finding of competency was not supported by sufficient evidence. 6

The Court of Special Appeals viewed Sangster's argument as claiming a denial of the right of confrontation and held that that right did not attach because a competency hearing "is not a prosecutorial proceeding as contemplated by the State and Federal constitutions." 70 Md.App. at 469, 521 A.2d at 817. That court further held that, even if the right to confrontation had attached

appellant did not act to preserve those rights. If appellant wanted to cross-examine the physicians concerning the opinions they expressed in the hospital report, he

Page 566

should have called them as witnesses. Having failed to do so, he waived his right to cross-examine them at the competency hearing. [ Id. at 470, 521 A.2d at 817-18.]

Sangster petitioned for certiorari which we issued. The petition presents the single question: "Did the trial judge fail to determine competency upon evidence presented on the record?" In his petition, in his brief and at oral argument Sangster eschews relying on a constitutional right of confrontation but he does submit that due process gave him a right to confront and cross-examine the physicians from Perkins.

In light of the way in which the objection arose at the competency hearing, the issue before us is a narrow one. Sangster objected to consideration of the content of the report from Perkins without an opportunity [541 A.2d 640] for the accused to cross-examine the opining experts. Consequently, the issue is whether the State is obliged to have the examining physicians available at a competency hearing in order to satisfy either a statutory or constitutional predicate for the court's use of the report in evaluating and ruling on competency. We shall consider the nonconstitutional issue first.


Determining the meaning of "evidence presented on the record" in H-G § 12-103(a) requires consideration, in addition, of H-G § 12-104 which deals with the examination as to competence. The latter section, in relevant part, provides:

(a) Examination authorized.--(1) For good cause and after giving the defendant an opportunity to be heard, the court may order the Department [of Health and Mental Hygiene] to examine the defendant to determine whether the defendant is incompetent to stand trial.

(2) The court shall set and may change the conditions under which the examination is to be made.


Page 567

(d) Report on examination.--(1) If a court orders an examination under this section, the Department shall:

(i) Examine the defendant; and

(ii) Send a complete report of its findings:

1. To the court;

2. To the State's Attorney;


3. To the defense counsel.

(2) Unless there is a plea that the defendant was not criminally responsible under § 12-108 of this title, the defendant is entitled to have the report within 7 days after the court orders the examination. However, failure of the Department to send the complete report within that time is not, of itself, grounds for dismissal of the charges. On good cause shown, the court may extend the time for examination.

(3) If the Department reports that, in its opinion, the defendant is incompetent to stand trial, the report shall state, in a complete supplementary opinion, whether, because of mental retardation or mental disorder, the defendant would be a danger to self or the person or property of another, if released.

The General Assembly by statute can modify the common law hearsay rule and permit the introduction at competency proceedings of reports from the Department without requiring a testimonial foundation similar to that required for business records. If the court orders an examination by the Department, the Department sends the report directly to the court which ordered the examination. Thus, authenticity and reliability are as well ensured as in the admissibility of business records. Cf. Md.Code (1974, 1984 Repl.Vol.), § 10-101 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article.

The obvious purpose of the statutory scheme is to make available to a requesting court the expertise of the Department. The statute directs that the findings resulting from the application of that expertise are to be embodied in a

Page 568

report. To achieve the legislative purpose the court must read the report.

Further, H-G § 12-104(d) requires that the Department submit the report concerning competency to (1) the court, (2) the State's Attorney and (3) the defense...

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  • Treece v. State, 174
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    ...825 (1960)). Moreover, the determination is not one to be made lightly but upon testimony and evidence on the record. Sangster v. State, 312 Md. 560, 564-565, 541 A.2d 637, 639 (1988); Jones v. State, 280 Md. 282, 289, 372 A.2d 1064, 1068 (1977); Health-Gen. Art., § 12-103(a). And the deter......
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    ...pursuant to S.C.Code Ann. § 44-23-410(2)). Thus, the report is a statutory exception to the rule against hearsay. See Sangster v. State, 312 Md. 560, 541 A.2d 637 (1988) (competency report properly admitted under statute). We find Franklin's argument meritless and 2. DID THE TRIAL COURT ERR......
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