U.S. v. Byers, 78-1451

Citation239 U.S. App. D.C. 1,740 F.2d 1104
Decision Date24 July 1984
Docket NumberNo. 78-1451,78-1451
Parties, 15 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1857 UNITED STATES of America v. Billy G. BYERS, Appellant.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (Criminal No. 76-686-1).

A. Franklin Burgess, Jr., Washington, D.C. (appointed by this Court) with whom James Klein and James McComas, Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellant.

John R. Fisher, Asst. U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., with whom Stanley S. Harris, U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C. (at the time the brief was filed), Michael W. Farrell and Roger M. Adelman, Asst. U.S. Atty., Washington, D.C., were on the brief, for appellee.

Joel I. Klein, Joseph Onek and Peter E. Scheer, Washington, D.C., were on brief for amicus curiae, American Psychiatric Ass'n urging affirmance. H. Bartow Farr, III, Washington, D.C., also entered an appearance for American Psychiatric Ass'n.

Donald N. Bersoff, Washington, D.C., was on the brief for amicus curiae, American Psychological Ass'n urging remand on fifth and sixth amendment grounds.

Before ROBINSON, Chief Judge, WRIGHT, TAMM, WILKEY, WALD, MIKVA, EDWARDS, GINSBURG, BORK and SCALIA, Circuit Judges, and BAZELON and MacKINNON, Senior Circuit Judges.

Opinion filed by Circuit Judge SCALIA, in which Circuit Judges TAMM, WILKEY, GINSBURG, BORK and Senior Circuit Judge MacKINNON join.

Concurring opinion filed by Chief Judge SPOTTSWOOD W. ROBINSON, III, in which Circuit Judge J. SKELLY WRIGHT joins.

Dissenting opinion filed by Senior Circuit Judge BAZELON, in which Circuit

Judges WALD and MIKVA join; and in which Circuit Judge HARRY T. EDWARDS joins with exceptions noted.

SCALIA, Circuit Judge:

We consider on this appeal whether, when a defendant asserts, and supports through expert testimony, the defense of insanity, the guarantee of the Fifth Amendment against compelled self-incrimination is violated by a government psychiatrist's testimony to unrecorded statements made by the defendant during a court-ordered examination; whether the guarantee of the Sixth Amendment to assistance of counsel is violated by the exclusion of counsel from such an examination; and whether the courts' supervisory power over the trial process permits the exclusion of psychiatric testimony that is the product of a lawful examination.

By indictment of October 26, 1976, appellant was charged with first degree murder while armed, in violation of D.C.Code Secs. 22-2401, 22-3202, and two related weapons offenses. At arraignment counsel informed the court that appellant's defense to the charges would be insanity and moved pursuant to D.C.Code Sec. 24-301(a) for an order committing appellant to St. Elizabeths Hospital for examination to determine both competency to stand trial and capacity, at the time of the offense, to form an intent to commit the crimes with which he was charged. 1 11/2/76 Tr. 3, 6-7. The motion was granted and appellant was committed. After two months of examinations, the staff at St. Elizabeths found that appellant was competent to stand trial, but had "probably lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct, [and] to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." Letter from Dr. Roger Peele, Acting Superintendent, dated Jan. 13, 1977, at 1. Soon after that, the Government moved to have appellant committed to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri, for a second examination. 2 Over an unfocused defense objection, that motion was granted. 3 Appellant was transferred to Springfield Trial of the case began on January 18, 1978. Appellant did not contest the substance of the charge, which was that he had shot and killed his lover of seven years who had left him the month before. Instead, as expected, he vigorously pressed his defense that he was insane at the time of the offense, specifically alleging that he was under the delusion that the decedent had cast a spell on him and had killed her to break free of its influence. He elicited testimony from various relatives, neighbors and medical experts. The testimony of three of these witnesses was of particular importance to the defense. The first was appellant's estranged wife, who had left him because of his relationship with the decedent. She testified that appellant told her before she left that he wanted to salvage their relationship but he could not end his affair with the decedent because she had cast a spell on him. Appellant had reaffirmed his belief in the spell, she said, when she confronted him about a small vial marked "spell remover" which she claimed she had found in his clothing.

on February 25, 1977 and remained there for some six weeks, under the principal supervision of Dr. Nicola Kunev, manager of the Center's Forensic Unit. At the end of this examination period, Dr. Kunev and his staff concluded that appellant was competent to stand trial and that he had been capable of appreciating the wrongfulness of his conduct and of conforming that conduct to the requirements of the law at the time of the alleged offense. A report outlining these conclusions was prepared by the staff and forwarded to the court.

The second, Dr. David L. Shapiro, a clinical psychologist who had examined appellant during his commitment to St. Elizabeths, testified that he believed appellant suffered from "an underlying paranoid delusion," 1/25/78 Tr. 90, as a result of which he felt "controlled by and unable to break out of the [decedent's] power," id. at 94. He related that appellant had told him that the decedent "was engaged in a practice known as taking roots." Appellant had explained that the roots were passed to him when the decedent forced him to participate in sex acts with her during menses. Appellant believed he could free himself from decedent's spell if he could stay away from her for forty-two days but that, "somehow she would always edge near. She would come back into his life and regain control over him somewhere ... within the 42-day period," id. at 95-96. Although Dr. Shapiro admitted he had "nagging doubts" because, among other things, appellant's recitals lacked conviction, 1/26/78 Tr. 140-41, 143-44, his conclusion was that the murder was the product of this delusional system.

The third witness, Dr. Glen H. Miller, a psychiatrist at St. Elizabeths who also had examined appellant, testified that appellant had described the spell to him. Based primarily on this description, but informed also by the reports of test results and presentations by his colleagues, Dr. Miller generally concurred in Dr. Shapiro's diagnosis. His judgment, too, was qualified to the extent that he believed appellant's was not "an absolutely clear-cut case." 1/31/78 Tr. 177.

Following this defense testimony, Dr. Emry A. Varhely, a clinical psychologist at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, and Dr. Kunev testified for the Government in rebuttal. Both had examined appellant while he was at the Springfield facility pursuant to the court's order. Appellant had told Dr. Varhely, as he had the staff at St. Elizabeths, that he believed the decedent had cast a spell on him. After further discussion with appellant, however, Dr. Varhely came to the judgment that Byers suffered not from paranoid delusion, that is, "a set of false beliefs, cohesive in nature ... [that] overshadows the whole Dr. Kunev's testimony followed. It is his testimony and the circumstances surrounding his interview of appellant with which we are concerned on this appeal. Dr. Kunev briefly related how appellant had described his relationship with the decedent, and his sense of rejection when she had rebuffed his overtures of marriage. Then, despite defense counsel's objection, but after noting that the defense would have "a free field for cross-examination," 2/7/78 Tr. 133, the court permitted Dr. Kunev to recount the following about his initial interview of appellant shortly after the latter's arrival in Springfield:

sphere of action of that individual"; but rather from "magical thinking or superstitious type of belief" not rising to the level of a mental illness. 2/1/78 Tr. 91. He was thus of the opinion that at the time of the offense, appellant was not suffering from a mental disease and was fully able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct.

I asked Mr. Byers as to his understanding for the reason of the shooting.

He said that he has no explanation and no reason, but he has been thinking about it.

I asked him, since that has been several months since the incident if he has some idea what might have been the reason for the shooting.

He said that this is a question that Mrs. Byers asked him about the time that he was admitted to St. Elizabeths Hospital on November 11th, 1976, and that his answer to her was the same, that he has no answer for why did he shoot Mrs. Dickens.

At that time, Mr. Byers said that Mrs. Byers suggested to him that this could be under the influence of some magic, spells or some influence of roots.

And Mr. Byers said that not having any other explanation, this appeared as a possible answer to the reason for the shooting. 4

Id. at 138-39 (emphasis added). Dr. Kunev took appellant's statements overall, and the italicized portion in particular, to demonstrate that the notion of supernatural influences working upon the defendant entered his mind after the murder and thus was irrelevant to his mental state at that time. On the basis of this interpretation he testified that in his opinion appellant had been sane. 5

Dr. Kunev's testimony substantially discredited appellant's insanity defense. The trial court characterized it as "very devastating," 2/9/78 Tr. 35, and suggested that it would "take the wind out of the defendant's sails and perhaps ... torpedo [him] out of the water," id. at 82. The prosecution's summation called it the "critical thing" in the...

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