U.S. v. Castenada

Decision Date16 March 1977
Docket NumberNo. 76-1328,76-1328
Citation555 F.2d 605
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Frank Olmos CASTENADA, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Paul M. Caldwell, Jr., Benton, Ill., for defendant-appellant.

Henry A. Schwarz, U. S. Atty., Timothy Gifford, Asst. U. S. Atty., East St. Louis, Ill., for plaintiff-appellee.

Before BAUER and WOOD, Circuit Judges, and GRANT, Senior District Judge. **

GRANT, Senior District Judge.

This appeal involves alleged errors in the criminal trial of Frank Olmos Castenada, an inmate at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois. Castenada was convicted of voluntary manslaughter on March 24, 1976. He was originally charged in a two-count indictment for (1) the murder of Donald Eugene Smith, and (2) the unlawful conveying of a knife in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1792. The jury ultimately found him guilty on Count I of the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter. Castenada was cleared of the second charge when the court granted his motion for a judgment of acquittal as to Count II.

The killing occurred as the result of an apparent fight between the defendant and the decedent in the warehouse area of the prison on the morning of September 10, 1975. The defendant was discovered inflicting blows upon the decedent with a knife. The defendant was on top of the decedent who was lying face up trying to ward off the blows. The defendant was eventually subdued, but not until he had inflicted fatal wounds to the decedent. Testimony at trial indicated that thirty-one stab wounds (Tr. 97) had been inflicted upon Smith and that he died from stab wounds inflicted in the chest. (Tr. 100).

At trial, the defendant attempted to argue that he had acted in self-defense. Castenada testified that he had been upset by a September 8, 1975, phone call advising of his brother's death and, further, that he had had words with Smith in regard to a debt arising out of a bet. (Tr. 178). Testimony also tended to indicate that originally Smith had the knife and had pursued Castenada. The fight ensued, with Castenada stabbing Smith to death.

Prior to trial, counsel for the defendant moved for a Title 18 § 4244 mental examination of Castenada to determine whether or not he was competent to stand trial and, also, to determine whether or not he was sane at the time of the alleged crime. This motion was granted and the defendant was examined at the Springfield Medical Center for federal prisoners. On the basis of the report from Springfield, the defendant was declared competent to stand trial. (Tr. 2).

During the course of the trial, evidence was adduced as to the mental condition and history of the defendant. Dr. J. R. Plank, a doctor on the penitentiary staff who had pronounced Smith dead, testified that he had prescribed a tranquilizer, valium, for Castenada because of the defendant's anxiety. In rebuttal, the Government called Dr. Daniel Brooks, the psychiatrist from the Springfield Medical Center for prisoners, who had examined Castenada after the homicide and pronounced him competent to stand trial. Dr. Brooks opined that an earlier 1967 diagnosis indicating Castenada was suffering from schizophrenia was inaccurate and that Castenada had not and did not suffer from any mental disease. Brooks also testified that Castenada had, during the examination, described the homicide incident "in sufficient detail" and that he "almost acted it out". (Tr. 208).

The defense alleges in a brief a number of errors at trial. They can be categorized into four major areas: (1) evidence of guilt, (2) prejudicial conduct by the Government, (3) proof of sanity, and (4) errors by the trial court. For the reasons that follow, however, we do not believe that any of these claims are of such a nature as to require a reversal of the conviction.


Counsel for the defendant insists that there was not sufficient evidence to find Castenada guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Specifically, he reasons that any finding by the jury that the defendant acted with greater force than necessary was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Counsel points out that the decedent initially pursued the defendant, that the decedent had made threats against the defendant, and that the incident occurred within the confined and often rugged environment of the penitentiary.

In cases where, as here, a question is raised as to the sufficiency of evidence to support a criminal jury verdict, "the verdict must be sustained if there is substantial evidence, taking the view most favorable to the government, to support it". Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87, 124, 94 S.Ct. 2887, 2911, 41 L.Ed.2d 590 (1974); Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60, 80, 62 S.Ct. 457, 86 L.Ed. 680 (1942); United States v. Abrams, 476 F.2d 1067, 1071 (C.A. 7 1973). It is for the jury, not the Court of Appeals, to determine the credibility of witnesses and to weigh their evidence. Our only inquiry here is to determine whether there is substantial evidence.

The record contains evidence that Castenada inflicted thirty-one stab wounds upon Smith and that he was on top of Smith in possession of the knife at the time that the fight was broken up. Under these circumstances, we believe that there is substantial evidence in the record upon which a jury could reasonably conclude that Castenada had exceeded the bounds of any reasonable self-defense and had become the aggressor. Hence, we find that there was sufficient evidence to sustain a jury verdict of voluntary manslaughter.


Defendant contends that statements of the defendant made to the government psychiatrist, Dr. Brooks, were improperly used against him in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 4244. Section 4244 of Title 18 of the United States Code provides in part that:

No statement made by the accused in the course of any examination into his sanity or mental competency provided for by this section, whether the examination shall be with or without the consent of the accused, shall be admitted in evidence against the accused on the issue of guilt in any criminal proceeding. A finding by the judge that the accused is mentally competent to stand trial shall in no way prejudice the accused in a plea of insanity as a defense to the crime charged; such finding shall not be introduced in evidence on that issue nor otherwise be brought to the notice of the jury.

During direct examination, Castenada testified as follows:

Q. You said you went to Springfield?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the purpose of your trip to Springfield?

A. They told me the Judge ordered it.

Q. Who did you see in Springfield?

A. About two or three psychiatrists.

Q. Did they talk to you about your background?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Did they talk to you about this incident?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And did you tell them anything about what happened?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And did you tell them substantially what you told us here this morning?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Mr. Castenada, do you remember stabbing Donald Eugene Smith?

A. No, sir.

Q. Are you denying that you stabbed him?

A. I don't understand you.

Q. I am asking you if you are denying that you stabbed him with a knife, you are not saying you didn't stab him are you?

A. No, sir.

Q. But you don't remember stabbing him at all?

A. No, sir.

Q. You testified you remember grabbing his writs and scuffling?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And the next thing you remember was Mr. Ramsey?

A. Yes, sir. (Tr. 182, 183).

It was only on rebuttal that the Government called Dr. Brooks, one of the original examining psychiatrists, as a witness. Regarding the examination of Castenada, Dr. Brooks testified as follows:

Q. What procedures did you use in examining him?

A. I reviewed a great deal of records that we had already, records that came from Marion, I went over the note made about his behavior with regard to the institution, how he was behaving himself. I conducted a personal interview, then I reviewed the results of tests made by the psychiatrists and later on I attended a conference with another psychiatrist and psychologist, we examined the defendant together and made notes and reached a final decision.

Q. Did you say you personally examined him?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Did you discuss the particular offense with which he had been charged?

A. Yes, we did.

Q. And without telling me what he said, did he describe that incident to you?

A. Yes, he did.

Q. Did he describe it to you in any detail?

A. Yes in sufficient detail, he actually almost acted it out with me.

Q. He didn't have any lapses of memory concerning it?

A. No, sir. (Tr. 208).

Several observations about Dr. Brooks' testimony should be made. First, his testimony about Castenada's statements during the examination was very limited and general. He did not testify as to what was in fact described, but merely that Castenada did describe the incident, that the description was in "sufficient detail" and that he "actually almost acted it out". His testimony is in contradiction to the defendant's, who stated at trial that he did not recall stabbing Smith. On the stand, Castenada had also told the jury that his discussion of the incident with the examining psychiatrist was "substantially what you told us here this morning". (Tr. 183).

Section 4244 provides that statements of the accused are inadmissible only "on the issue of guilt". In this case, the defendant opened the door on direct examination to the content of statements made during his examination. The testimony of Dr. Brooks was elicited in order to attack Castenada's credibility and as such it was proper impeachment. The testimony of Dr. Brooks was offered by the Government on the limited issue of credibility rather than on the issue of guilt and thus did not violate the statute.

This distinction between precluding the admission of evidence on the issue of guilt in the case in chief and admitting otherwise inadmissible evidence...

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