United States ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen

Decision Date03 September 1981
Docket NumberNo. 79C5020.,79C5020.
Citation522 F. Supp. 443
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, ex rel. Clarence RIVERS, Petitioner, v. Gayle M. FRANZEN, et al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

James A. Klenk, Mark Sableman, Reuben & Proctor, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.

Neal B. Goodfriend, Asst. Atty. Gen., Chicago, Ill., for respondents.


SHADUR, District Judge.

Petitioner Clarence Rivers ("Rivers") was convicted of murder January 26, 1973 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. After exhausting all available state remedies Rivers brought what is now his Amended Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus (the "Petition")1 alleging that he had been incompetent to stand trial. Respondents have moved for summary judgment as to all four counts of the Petition, and Rivers has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment as to Counts I, III and IV. For the reasons stated in this memorandum opinion and order Rivers' motion is granted as to Count I,2 respondents' motion is denied and the writ of habeas corpus is issued.


Rivers was indicted on charges of first degree murder March 20, 1972. Shortly thereafter the trial court ordered a psychiatric examination to determine Rivers' mental fitness to stand trial. On July 20, 1972 Staff Psychiatrist for the Psychiatric Institute of the Circuit Court of Cook County Dr. Robert H. Reifman reported to the court that Rivers was competent for that purpose. Rivers' trial began in December 1972 and culminated in his conviction January 26, 1973.

Almost immediately after the trial Rivers' trial attorney received several indications that caused him to doubt Rivers' competency. Accordingly the attorney filed with the trial court "Suggestions of Doubt of Competency of Accused," bringing to the court's attention a number of items of evidence to that effect. That led the trial court to order another examination by Dr. Reifman. On March 30, 1973 Dr. Reifman reported to the court that Rivers was not then competent to be sentenced (without stating the underlying basis for that conclusion).

Rivers' attorney immediately moved to vacate the judgment on the ground that Rivers' current condition of mental unfitness indicated that he had likely been incompetent at the time of trial. Instead of granting a hearing on that score, the trial court ordered still another examination of Rivers by Dr. Reifman. On April 19, 1973 Dr. Reifman reported by letter to the court that:

(a) Rivers was not then mentally competent to be sentenced.
(b) Dr. Reifman had no opinion regarding Rivers' sanity at the time of the alleged murder.
(c) Rivers had been competent to stand trial.

Again Dr. Reifman did not report the bases for his conclusions or the reasons for his diametrically opposed opinions as of two dates so close together. Based on Dr. Reifman's report the trial judge again refused to grant a hearing, determined that Rivers was not fit to be sentenced and remanded him to the Department of Mental Health.

On June 18, 1973 Rivers was examined by Dr. Leonard Horecker, a staff psychiatrist at the Illinois Security Hospital. Dr. Horecker reported to the court that Rivers was then mentally unfit for sentencing. On January 30, 1974 Dr. Reifman again examined Rivers and reported to the court that he was now mentally fit to be sentenced.

On April 9, 1974 the trial court held a hearing on Rivers' mental competency for the first time, limited however to his competency then to be sentenced — not competency at the time of trial. Dr. Reifman testified, based on his fourth examination of Rivers, that he was then mentally fit for sentencing. No cross-examination was permitted by the trial court as to Rivers' competency and ability to cooperate with counsel at trial. Based on the Reifman report and testimony the trial court found Rivers mentally competent to be sentenced. It rejected a motion for a full hearing and an independent examination by another psychiatrist, imposing a 30- to 90-year sentence.

Rivers' Right to a Hearing

Rivers contends in the Petition that the trial court denied him due process of law by refusing to hold a post-trial hearing to determine whether he had been mentally fit to stand trial. Essentially Rivers' counsel argue that the matters brought to the judge's attention, especially when corroborated by the psychiatric finding that he was not fit to stand sentencing so soon after trial, raised enough doubt as to his earlier competency so that the trial court should have held a hearing.

Section 5-2-1 of the Unified Code of Corrections (Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 38, ¶ 1005-2-1) provides:

(c) When a bona fide doubt of the defendant's fitness to stand trial or be sentenced is raised, the court shall order that a determination of that question be made before further proceedings.

Under that provision a trial judge has a duty to conduct a fitness hearing only when facts brought to his attention raise a bona fide doubt regarding a defendant's fitness.

That statutory scheme is clearly constitutional. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 384-87, 86 S.Ct. 836, 841-43, 15 L.Ed.2d 815 (1966); People v. Bilyew, 73 Ill.2d 294, 22 Ill.Dec. 736, 383 N.E.2d 212 (1978). Thus the due process question can coincide with the statutory one: whether evidence presented to the trial judge was sufficient to raise "a bona fide doubt of the defendant's fitness to stand trial." Compare the standard of federal habeas review as stated in Reese v. Wainwright, 600 F.2d 1085, 1091 (5th Cir. 1979):

When federal habeas relief is sought on grounds of incompetency-in-fact, the petitioner's initial burden is heavy. "Courts in habeas corpus proceedings should not consider claims of mental incompetence to stand trial where the facts are not sufficient to positively, unequivocally, and clearly generate a real, substantial, and legitimate doubt as to the mental capacity of the petitioner."

Certainly the trial judge had no reason to doubt Rivers' competency before commencement of trial. Rivers had been found competent by a psychiatrist about five months earlier, and no evidence was presented to the court before trial to indicate that there had been any change.

Accordingly the statute was not literally applicable, and Rivers' counsel are right: Due process becomes an issue of whether evidence presented to the judge after trial was sufficient to raise the required bona fide doubt. Psychiatric testimony is needless to say not the sole illuminator of a defendant's fitness. In Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 180, 95 S.Ct. 896, 908, 43 L.Ed.2d 103 (1975), the Supreme Court listed three factors that should be considered in determining whether further inquiry is required:

(1) evidence of a defendant's irrational behavior;
(2) his demeanor at trial; and
(3) any prior medical opinion on competence,

but stated "that even one of these factors standing alone may, in some circumstances, be sufficient."

As to the first factor, the trial judge was presented in defense counsel's Suggestions of Doubt with evidence of irrational behavior by Rivers starting almost from the announcement of the judgment. That evidence, including several almost incomprehensible letters, indicated that Rivers did not recognize that he had been found guilty. Even though there was no evidence of irrational behavior either before or during trial, the showing of Rivers' behavior immediately after trial was concededly such as to cause the trial judge to doubt Rivers' competence to be sentenced.

As for the second factor, the court was unable to make any meaningful observations of Rivers' demeanor. As the trial court itself stated (Tr. 753-54):

Since I have had no occasion to talk to Mr. Rivers, nor has he taken the stand in his own behalf, so I have not had the opportunity to observe his manner while participating in any conversation or in any conduct before the court other than to be present throughout the course of the trial.

Thus the second factor is really neutral in this case. If an individual's mental problems typically exhibit themselves in violent outbursts or similar manifestations, the nonobservation of any such symptoms may be probative. But as indicated later in this opinion, such was not the nature of Rivers' conduct when he was concededly incompetent. No inference may appropriately be drawn then from the trial court's failure to observe Rivers' manner or conduct.

It was clearly the third factor, in the form of opinions by Dr. Reifman, that persuaded the trial judge not to hold a hearing to determine Rivers' competency at trial. But those opinions simply will not withstand analysis for that purpose:

Dr. Reifman's July 1972 psychiatric examination was of little value in determining Rivers' competency once contrary indications became known. It took place some five months before trial. Dr. Reifman confirms that Rivers' condition is a volatile one that can change in a very short time — and indeed did according to him. Consequently Rivers' competence months before trial is not substantially probative (really an understatement) of his condition at trial time.

Thus the trial judge was presented with a defendant who was admittedly incompetent almost immediately after trial and who had not been examined by a psychiatrist within a close proximity of the trial. Such evidence clearly raises at the very least a bona fide doubt as to Rivers' competence during trial. Only one piece of evidence was on the other side of the scales: Dr. Reifman's April 19, 1973 letter stating — without any indication of its underpinning — that although Rivers was not fit for sentencing he was sufficiently competent to have stood trial.

That report was of limited value at best. Dr. Reifman stated only his conclusion and failed to discuss the basis for his determination. Such conclusory reports by psychiatrist experts are generally not favored by courts. See, Bruce v. Estelle, 483 F.2d 1031, 1035 n.7 (5th Cir. 1973); Green v. United States, 389 F.2d 949, 955 (D...

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4 cases
  • United States ex rel. Veal v. Wolff
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • November 20, 1981
    ...770 (1963), and nothing in Sumner v. Mata can be taken as altering this long-standing principle. See United States ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen, 522 F.Supp. 443, 448 (N.D.Ill. 1981); Sher v. Stoughton, 516 F.Supp. 534 (N.D.N.Y.1981); Bishop v. Parratt, 509 F.Supp. 1140, 1144 In People v. Veal,......
  • U.S. ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit
    • November 10, 1982
    ...was granted by the district court on the first claim only in response to cross-motions for summary judgment. United States ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen, 522 F.Supp. 443 (N.D.Ill.1981). A motion for reconsideration was filed by the respondents based on the Supreme Court's decision in Sumner v. ......
  • Stokes v. United States, H 77-C-407.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
    • April 29, 1982
    ...on a case-by-case basis. One factor which is heavily emphasized by Stokes is the element of time itself. See United States ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen, 522 F.Supp. 443 (N.D.Ill.1981), appeal pending, No. 81-2599 (7th Cir. 1982) (lapse of some eight and one-half years, coupled with the transit......
  • US ex rel. Blackwell v. Franzen
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
    • January 7, 1982
    ...by Sumner v. Mata, 449 U.S. 539, 101 S.Ct. 764, 66 L.Ed.2d 722 (1981), do not apply. See this Court's opinion in People ex rel. Rivers v. Franzen, 522 F.Supp. 443 (1981). 8 Evidence of recantation would bring the fact situation in this case that much closer to 1 This Court again thanks Blac......

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