Wear v. United States, 11761.

Decision Date22 July 1954
Docket NumberNo. 11761.,11761.
Citation218 F.2d 24,94 US App. DC 325
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Mr. David E. Feller, Washington, D. C., appointed by this Court, with whom Mr. Arthur J. Goldberg, Washington, D. C., appointed by this Court, on the brief, for appellant.

Mr. Lewis A. Carroll, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., with whom Mr. Leo A. Rover, U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., on the brief, for appellee. Mr. William R. Glendon, Asst. U. S. Atty., Washington, D. C., at time record was filed, entered an appearance for appellee.


BAZELON, Circuit Judge.

Appellant was indicted in September 1951 on charges of housebreaking, larceny, forgery and the uttering of a forgery.1 The trial, which was originally set for the following month, did not take place until March 1953.2 Appellant was found guilty on the forgery counts, and sentenced to a term of not less than sixteen months or more than four years. The sole question in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in refusing to grant appellant's motion for a psychiatric examination pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4244.

Defense counsel first moved for a mental examination of the appellant after records were produced at the trial showing that in June 1952, nine months prior to the instant trial, appellant had been acquitted by reason of insanity on charges of larceny and forgery brought in the Criminal Court of Baltimore City. These records also disclosed that he was thereupon committed to the Spring Grove State Hospital, a mental institution at Catonsville, Maryland. Although the hospital records showed that appellant "had adjusted well to the hospital and the psychotic episode seemed to be in remission and that he was a responsible agent at the time he left the hospital," he was never discharged as cured but "left the hospital without authority" on August 28, 1952. The court reserved its ruling until the end of the trial, saying, "When I start a trial I like to go on through with it."

The trial continued. Records of the Baltimore court were introduced showing that in the mental examination made at the time of the Baltimore arrest in May 1952, appellant was found to be "grossly psychotic," preoccupied with his fantasies, and obedient to "suggestions and orders given to him by his voice — in quotes." Thereafter, an episode occurred in the courtroom which further reflected on appellant's competency to stand trial. Dr. William Orsinger, Senior Medical Officer at the District of Columbia Jail, testified for the defense as to complaints of illness by appellant while in jail. Shortly after Dr. Orsinger left the witness stand, appellant fell to the floor in what appeared to be an epileptic fit. His eyes were closed, blood was running out of his mouth and he was quivering. Dr. Orsinger, who was recalled to the courtroom, squeezed appellant's testicles in an effort to determine whether the seizure was genuine. He later testified that appellant responded to this stimulus, indicating that the episode was not due to organic brain disease. The doctor, although not a psychiatrist, stated that the seizure, in his opinion, "was either — and I am unable to distinguish — malingering or hysteria."

After verdict, defense counsel renewed the request for a mental examination of appellant. The court did not rule until two days later when appellant appeared for sentencing, at which time the court said:

"In my opinion and from what I have heard of this case, I think the defendant is a malingerer. When he gets out after being in an institution he goes about cashing checks and acting in a normal manner. To me, that means that he is sane.
"Instead of being criminally insane, he is criminally sane, in my opinion, and I think I can pass a sentence with the recommendation that he be given such treatment as he may desire, and as the authorities may deem necessary in the case."3

In Perry v. United States we reversed a judgment of conviction because the trial court failed to act on an oral motion for a psychiatric examination, thereby in effect denying it. Although there we were primarily interested in whether an oral motion was adequate to invoke the statutory procedure, we noted that if it was, "the court was obliged to follow the course prescribed to determine whether or not there should be a trial."4 We referred to the "method adopted by Congress for ascertaining * * *" whether an accused is competent to stand trial, and we indicated, at least by implication, that where, as in that case, there was an undisputed assertion of prior insanity, recourse to the statutory method was required.5 The present case falls easily within the ambit of Perry.

The Government now raises certain questions regarding the trial court's discretion to deny a mental examination which our opinion in Perry does not specifically discuss. Because these questions are important in the administration of the still relatively new and unfamiliar statutory provisions governing the determination of competency to stand trial, we deem it advisable to discuss them.

The statute of which § 4244 is a part was enacted in 1949 "to provide for the care and custody of insane persons charged with or convicted of offenses against the United States * * *."6 It was proposed, after long study, by a committee of the Judicial Conference which, in 1944, reported to the Conference that "Judging from results the present procedures have been inadequate for sifting out these mental cases prior to trial and conviction."7 The committee recognized a need for "the advice of trained psychiatrists * * * in the detection of mental disorders which may not be readily apparent to the eye of the layman."8 Section 4244 insofar as is here pertinent provides:

"Whenever after arrest and prior to the imposition of sentence * * the United States Attorney has reasonable cause to believe that a person charged with an offense against the United States may be presently insane or otherwise so mentally incompetent as to be unable to understand the proceedings against him or properly to assist in his own defense, he shall file a motion for a judicial determination of such mental competency of the accused, setting forth the ground for such belief with the trial court in which proceedings are pending. Upon such a motion or upon a similar motion in behalf of the accused, or upon its own motion, the court shall cause the accused * * * to be examined as to his mental condition by at least one qualified psychiatrist, who shall report to the court."

The Government contends that when a motion is filed under this section, the court must examine the grounds set forth in the motion and weigh the "evidence as on the issue of insanity" in order to determine whether there is "reasonable cause to believe" that the accused is incompetent to stand trial. It is urged that this is "a question of credibility and issues of fact" to be resolved by the court before it orders a mental examination of the accused. Appellant's view of the statute is diametrically opposed to this. He argues that the court, whether or not it has reasonable cause to believe, must automatically order a mental examination whenever a motion is made therefor.9

The statute makes no mention of any preliminary determination by the court; read literally, only the moving party, not the court, must have "reasonable cause to believe"; and it speaks in mandatory terms regarding the court's function thereunder, providing that "upon such a motion * * * the court shall cause the accused * * * to be examined etc.." (Emphasis supplied.) While these factors tend to indicate that the court has no discretion to decline...

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  • U.S. v. Cohen
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit
    • 4 Mayo 1984
    ...application to federal crimes. In 1955, when Congress amended Sec. 24-301 specifically to overrule our decision in Wear v. United States, 218 F.2d 24 (D.C.Cir.1954)--which had held that the more lenient provisions relating to pretrial psychiatric examinations contained in 18 U.S.C. Sec. 424......
  • U.S. v. Ives
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit
    • 9 Agosto 1974
    ...we expressly reject that foothold today.28 Accord, Krupnick v. United States, 264 F.2d 213, 216 (8th Cir. 1959); Wear v. United States, 94 U.S.App.D.C. 325, 218 F.2d 24 (1954). Contra United States v. McEachern, 465 F.2d 833, 838 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1043, 93 S.Ct. 539, 34 L.E......
  • Mirra v. United States
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • 5 Julio 1966
    ...97 U.S.App. D.C. 133, 229 F.2d 16, 18 (1955), cert. denied, 351 U.S. 974, 76 S.Ct. 1035, 100 L.Ed. 1492 (1956); Wear v. United States, 94 U.S.App.D.C. 325, 218 F.2d 24, 26 (1954). 27 Petitioner's statements and acts throughout the pre-trial and post-trial proceedings are accurately summariz......
  • United States v. Taylor, 13937.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit
    • 20 Enero 1971
    ...no mental examination." Holloway v. United States, 119 U.S.App.D.C. 396, 343 F.2d 265, 267 (1964). Compare Wear v. United States, 94 U.S.App.D.C. 325, 218 F.2d 24, 27 n. 11 (1954), with Gunther v. United States, 94 U.S.App. D.C. 243, 215 F.2d 493, 497 (1954). See also Heard v. United States......
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