United States v. Lucas, 1:17-CR-00129 EAW

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
Writing for the CourtELIZABETH A. WOLFORD United States District Judge
PartiesUNITED STATES OF AMERICA, v. RICHARD LUCAS, Defendant.
Docket Number1:17-CR-00129 EAW
Decision Date06 May 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
RICHARD LUCAS, Defendant.

1:17-CR-00129 EAW

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK

May 6, 2019


DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Defendant Richard Lucas ("Defendant") stands accused by way of a one-count Indictment returned on July 11, 2017, with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Dkt. 18). A jury trial is scheduled to commence on May 14, 2019. (Dkt. 189).

This Decision and Order is intended to memorialize the reasons that the Court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that Defendant is not presently suffering from a mental disease or defect that would render him mentally incompetent to the extent that he would be unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or render him unable to assist properly in his defense. For the reasons set forth below, the Court determines that Defendant is competent to stand trial.

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PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On July 11, 2017, a federal grand jury returned a one-count Indictment charging Defendant with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 846. (Dkt. 18). A jury trial was originally scheduled to commence on November 7, 2018. (Dkt. 76). However, the morning of November 7, 2018, defense counsel made an oral motion for a competency hearing. (Dkt. 161). Without objection from the Government, the Court determined that there was reasonable cause for a mental health examination to be conducted. (Id.). Accordingly, the trial was adjourned so that an evaluation could proceed.

Defendant was transported to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Federal Medical Center in Ayer, Massachusetts ("FMC Devens"), and underwent a mental health evaluation from December 6, 2018, through January 30, 2019. (Dkt. 182). Forensic psychologist Shawn E. Channell, Ph.D., ABPP, issued a report dated March 27, 2019, in which he offered the following opinions: (1) Defendant has a factual understanding of his legal case and the court process; (2) Defendant's decision-making ability and "unwavering decision to take his case to trial are not the result of a mental illness"; (3) Defendant has a specific way in which he wants his defense to proceed and he avoids discussing his legal case so as not to feel anxious or stressed, which will make working with his attorneys more difficult, but Defendant is "capable of working with them if he chooses to do so"; (4) Defendant is not suffering from a mental disorder which would render him incompetent to the extent that he is unable to

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understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense. (Id. at 11-12)1.

On April 17, 2019, the Court held a conference concerning Defendant's competency. (Dkt. 186). Defense counsel raised concerns regarding Defendant's behavior since a previous status conference held on March 29, 2019, and ultimately indicated that they did not believe Defendant could assist in his own defense. At this conference, the Court requested that the United States Marshal Service ("USMS") obtain information from the medical and mental health providers at the local jail facility where Defendant is being housed.

A competency hearing was held before the undersigned on May 1, 2019. (Dkt. 189). The Court considered Dr. Channell's report, which had previously been entered as part of the record in this case. (Dkt. 182). In addition, the Court marked and entered into evidence two exhibits obtained through the assistance of the USMS: (1) Court Exhibit 1—an email memorializing interactions between Defendant and a nurse at the local jail facility where Defendant is being housed; (2) Court Exhibit 2—an email from the Chief Medical Officer at the Allegany County Sheriff's Office summarizing additional interactions with Defendant. The Court also heard from defense counsel, who expressed the general view that their concerns had been resolved since the appearance on April 17, 2019, and that they had devised a more effective way to communicate with Defendant. Defendant did not present any

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witnesses or exhibits, and neither did the Government. The Court engaged in a colloquy with Defendant at the hearing concerning his ability to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist in his defense, and at the conclusion of the hearing, the Court indicated that it found Defendant competent and intended to issue a Decision and Order memorializing the reasons for its findings.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

"It is well established that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the criminal prosecution of a defendant who is not competent to stand trial." United States v. Quintieri, 306 F.3d 1217, 1232 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437, 439 (1992)). Accordingly, 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a) requires the Court to conduct "a hearing to determine the mental competency of the defendant" where there is "reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense." Id. Prior to the hearing date, the Court has the discretion to order that a psychological examination of the defendant be conducted. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(b). A defendant has the right to counsel at a competency hearing, and must be afforded the "opportunity to testify, to present evidence, to subpoena witnesses on his behalf, and to confront and cross-examine witnesses who appear at the hearing." 18 U.S.C. § 4247(d).

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After conclusion of the hearing, the Court must determine whether, by a preponderance of the evidence, "the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or...

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