United States v. Currens, 13152.

Decision Date01 May 1961
Docket NumberNo. 13152.,13152.
Citation290 F.2d 751
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, v. Donald Kenneth CURRENS, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

H. David Rothman, Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellant.

Hubert I. Teitelbaum, U. S. Atty., Daniel J. Snyder, Asst. U. S. Atty., Pittsburgh, Pa., for appellee.

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge, and HASTIE and FORMAN, Circuit Judges.

BIGGS, Chief Judge.

Currens, the appellant, was convicted by a jury of a violation of Section 2312, Title 18 U.S.C., the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act, the so-called "Dyer" Act, and was committed as a young adult offender to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment and supervision pursuant to Section 5010(b) of the Youth Corrections Act, 18 U.S.C. § 5010(b), until discharged by the Federal Youth Correction Division pursuant to law. The facts relating to his crime briefly stated, are as follows:

On September 16, 1958, Currens, then approximately 22 years of age and living with his grandparents in Mansfield, Ohio, went to an automobile salesman in that city. He told the salesman that he desired to buy a designated automobile and a price of $3,800 was tentatively agreed upon. Currens then requested permission to drive the car for a brief period, saying that he desired to show it to his wife. The salesman agreed to let him have the use of the car for several hours but Currens drove the car to Waterford, West Virginia, taking with him a young woman who was not his wife. Accompanied by his female companion he later drove the car to the Pittsburgh airport where he abandoned it. Currens was arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada, and was interviewed there by Agent Parker of the Federal Bureau of Investigation on November 1, 1958. He wrote out and signed a statement, really a confession, which was introduced in evidence at his trial as Government's Exhibit No. 2. In this statement he admitted that he had obtained the car by "pretense" and stated that he was not sure where he had left it, suggesting that perhaps he had driven it to New York City. He stated that he recalled driving the car to Wheeling, West Virginia, but that he could not remember clearly what had transpired after that. When interviewed by Agent Parker for the second time on November 14, Currens stated that he did not recall "too clearly" talking with the F.B.I. agent only two weeks before. He asserted also that he had consumed large quantities of liquor prior to his leaving Mansfield.

Currens was returned to Pittsburgh and was confined in the Allegheny County Jail for want of bail. On February 19, 1959, he was examined by Dr. Maurice H. Bowers, a qualified neuropsychiatrist of Pittsburgh. Dr. Bowers prepared a report, dated February 19, 1959, addressed to the Department of Justice and the United States Attorney, introduced at the trial as Defendant's Exhibit C, in which he stated that he found that Currens was "able to understand the proceedings against him so as to assist in his own defense.", that he believed Currens to be "competent mentally * * * and that he knows right from wrong but has not adhered to the right." The indictment against Currens was handed down on March 20, 1959. On June 1, 1959, however, the United States Attorney filed a petition in which he referred to Dr. Bowers' findings quoted above in part, but went on to say: "However, the conduct of * * * Currens while confined in the Allegheny County Jail was such that he was transferred to the United States Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, for emergency hospitalization", that a report of May 25, 1959, by Dr. Manly B. Root, Chief of the Psychiatric Service of the Lewisburg Penitentiary, stated that Currens had a "mental disease, namely hysteria" and that a further psychiatric examination would be necessary to determine whether he was able to understand the proceedings against him and properly to assist in his own defense.1 The United States Attorney prayed that Currens be examined again by Dr. Bowers pursuant to Sections 4244-4247, Title 18 U.S.C. The court below entered the order requested.

On June 4, 1959, Dr. Bowers again examined Currens and on June 8 again rendered a report, introduced at the trial as Defendant's Exhibit B sic to the Department of Justice and to the United States Attorney. He concluded, among other things, that as of that time Currens was not "able to understand the proceedings against him so as to assist in his own defense", and that "The Instability of Emotions is believed to cause his Anxiety to reach such proportions that his judgment is impaired as well as his ability to concentrate; and at such times he would therefore be unable to understand proceedings." On June 11, 1959, a hearing was held to determine the mental competency of Currens. The court found him mentally incompetent and pursuant to Section 4246, Title 18 U.S.C., ordered him committed to the custody of the Attorney General until he was "restored to mental competency sufficiently to stand trial. * * *"

Currens was then sent to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners at Springfield, Missouri for examination and treatment. The reports of the Medical Center were admitted in evidence at Currens' trial as part of Defendant's Exhibit D. The earliest date with which they are concerned is June 16, 1959; the latest, September 22, 1959. The second sheet of the reports gives Currens' "Previous Criminal History". It lists eight criminal offenses or charges, most of them of a petty nature. The most serious of these was the passing of worthless or forged checks. The offenses, while small, cover a wide range both geographically and by categories. As examples we point out that Currens served two years in the Federal Reformatory at El Reno for impersonating an Air Force officer in New Orleans and later received a comparatively light sentence at Tempe, Arizona for petty thievery. The doctors at the Springfield Medical Center observed that some paralysis, unparticularized as to location in the report, was observable on his arrival at the hospital at the Lewisburg prison in March 1959 and that he claimed he had suffered injuries several years before when thrown by a horse and that his back had been reinjured in a jump from an upper bunk while in jail. At the Medical Center Currens was thought to be hysterical in asserting that he was suffering from these back injuries but an actual test showed that the protein in his spinal fluid was abnormally elevated. The Medical Center report also asserts that Currens resented his commitment for examination under Section 4246, Title 18 U.S.C. and complained because he was not allowed to plead guilty and receive sentence, apparently fearing that he might be held in custody indefinitely. His record, at least as disclosed by the Medical Center authorities, indicates that he is a person of somewhat better than average intelligence, ordinarily somewhat affable, but subject to occasional explosive and irrational courses of conduct. He is shown as a consistent minor violator of institutional regulations, with "borderline" behavior. The following sentence from one of the Medical Center reports, Exhibit D, is suggestive: "He Currens has appeared to be a somewhat disturbed person with hypochondriacal and hysterical tendencies, yet he has not been sufficiently disturbed to warrant a psychotic diagnosis." Currens asserted that he could not remember the offense with which he was charged. The examining psychiatrists expressed doubts as to whether Currens was a pathological liar or was actually subject to amnesiac periods which caused memory blanks which he attempts to fill with confabulation.2

That portion of the Medical Center reports, also part of Exhibit D, indicated as dictated by "EHM, 9-11-59", headed "Present Situation" is, we think, illuminating. It is as follows: "Currens was assigned to an open ward for older patients on arrival * * *. He also had approximately two weeks on an acute treatment ward when he, in anger, made statements which sounded as though he might take his own life. He has not received any formal behavior reports but neither has his adjustment been particularly commendable. He had no work assignment for the first two months but has recently been placed in the Food Service. He has asked to be assigned to Industries so that he might earn some money. He appears to have sufficient judgment not to get into outright difficulties, but the problem of being unable to recall his offense remains with him. He is essentially unperturbed with his mode of adjustment to living and it would appear that he finds an institutional atmosphere a fairly compatible one, including its value as a focus of hostility. It would appear also that whatever physical difficulties he has also serve the purpose of removing him one step further from an active and responsible life."

The Psychological Examination of Currens at the Medical Center was quite complete. A battery of tests was employed on June 18 and July 9, 1959, and the results are set out in detail in the report of August 3, 1959 of Dr. George A. Geil, a Clinical Psychologist of the United States Public Health Service which also is included in Exhibit D. These tests included the Color Sensitivity Personality Test, the Rorschach Test and the Multiple Approach Personality Inventory. All of these tests tend to show that Currens possessed and possesses an extremely disturbed and possibly disintegrating personality and that his contacts with reality have been "seriously weakened". Phrases like "Weak reality contact, withdrawn emotions," are not infrequent in Dr. Geil's report. Currens is said to be "Depressed or excited in a way not understood * * * Frightened by the hearing of strange or frightening voices". Dr. Geil gives his "Psycho-diagnostic Impression as follows: "(1) Basic sociopathic personality disturbance and (2) major emotional disturbance (schizophrenic reaction, undifferentiated type). In view of patent's...

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