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U.S. v. TRILLO-CERDA

November 25, 2002

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF, VS. LUIS TRILLO-CERDA, DEFENDANT


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rhoades, District Judge

ORDER

I. Overview

II. Background

18 U.S.C. § 4241 provides that prior to the sentencing of a defendant, the court shall order a competency hearing "if 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." 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). In an order filed November 20, 2001, the court concluded that there was reasonable cause to believe that defendant might be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him incompetent to stand trial. Accordingly, the court ordered a mental competency evaluation in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 4241(b) and subsequently held a hearing in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 4241(c) and 4247(d). On February 19, 2002, the court found defendant to be incompetent to stand trial and therefore committed defendant to the custody of the Attorney General in accordance with 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), which provides that, if the defendant is determined to be incompetent, the court shall commit the defendant to the custody of the Attorney General for a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, in order to determine whether "there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future the defendant will attain the capacity to permit the trial to proceed." 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(1). Defendant was placed at the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners ("USMC-Springfield") in Springfield, Missouri.

At the end of the four month period, the government filed a motion to allow defendant's continued hospitalization pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2), which provides that the defendant may be hospitalized for an additional reasonable period of time until "his mental condition is so improved that the trial may proceed, if the court finds that there is a substantial probability that within such additional period of time he will attain the capacity to permit the trial to proceed." In an order filed July 31, 2002, the court extended defendant's period of custody until November 27, 2002. in an order filed September 11, 2002, the court posed various questions to medical staff at Springfield regarding defendant's treatment and requested a response to those questions on or before September 20, 2002.

In a letter to the court dated September 19, 2002, the court was informed that it was the belief of the USMC-Springfield clinical staff that defendant is competent to stand trial. Then, without a court order, USMC-Springfield sent defendant back to San Diego, where he is currently confined at the Metropolitan Correctional Complex ("MCC").

The court held a hearing on September 30, 2002 pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(c) to determine defendant's competence. At the hearing, the parties stipulated to defendant's incompetence despite the certificate of competency filed by USMC-Springfield. The court agreed with the parties that unless defendant is forcibly medicated, he is incompetent to stand trial. The court also informed the parties that it will not order defendant's continued forcible medication. Thus, the court determined that defendant is incompetent to stand trial.

The first step of the procedure is that there must be a certification that the pretrial "detainee is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect as a result of which his release would create a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage to property of another . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 4246(a). This certification is to be made by "the director of a facility in which a person is hospitalized . . . ." 18 U.S.C. § 4246(a). The court must then hold a hearing. See 18 U.S.C. § 4246(c). "If, after the hearing, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the person is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect as a result of which his release would create a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage to property of another, the court shall commit the person to the custody of the Attorney General." 18 U.S.C. § 4246(d).

This issue of the applicability of § 4246 arises because there is ample evidence in the record to suggest that defendant will present a danger to society if he is released, yet there is some question about whether defendant is "hospitalized" within the meaning of § 4246 and, if not, whether this fact precludes USMC-Springfield from providing a dangerousness certification under § 4246.

III. Analysis

The evidence in the record suggests that, if given the opportunity, USMC-Springfield might certify defendant as dangerous within the meaning of § 4246, as there is substantial evidence of violent behavior on defendant's part. For example, defendant himself reported to USMC-Springfield clinical staff that he committed a homicide for which he spent 12 years in prison. See February 6, 2002 report of Dr. Kalish, pp. 2, 3. While at USMC-Springfield, defendant threatened USMC-Springfield staff with violence and actually assaulted a USMC-Springfield staff member and another inmate. See Involuntary Medication Hearing Appeal Response p. 4, attached to July 12, 2002 Letter from Bill Hedrick, Warden of USMC-Springfield. Moreover, Dr. Frederick has opined that "Mr. Trillo-Cerda presents a serious risk of injury to others and is at risk for significant property damage as the result of mental disorder were he to be released from custody." See September 19, 2002 Forensic Report p. 9, attached to September 19, 2002 Letter from Bill Hedrick, Warden of USMC-Springfield. Nonetheless, despite this evidence of dangerousness, there is some question as to whether the certification can be made given that defendant is not currently physically confined at USMC-Springfield.

18 U.S.C. § 4241(e) provides that "[w]hen the director of the facility in which a defendant is hospitalized pursuant to subsection (d) determines that the defendant has recovered to such an extent that he is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense, he shall promptly file a certificate to that effect with the clerk of the court that ordered the commitment." Here, in conjunction with a certification made pursuant to § 4241(e), USMC-Springfield returned defendant to this jurisdiction. It is unclear whether USMC-Springfield intended to officially discharge defendant or whether it simply returned him to this district for the purpose of allowing defendant to participate in the competency proceeding. As a preliminary matter, it is questionable whether USMC-Springfield could discharge defendant without a court order. The court notes that § 4241(e) provides that "[i]f; after the hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant has recovered to such an extent that he is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his defense, the court shall order his immediate discharge from the facility in which he is hospitalized and shall set the date for trial." However, "at the end of the time period specified, it is determined that the defendant's mental condition has not so improved as to permit the trial to proceed, the defendant is subject to the provisions of section 4246." 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d). Based upon these two provisions of § 4241, it would appear that USMC-Springfield could not ...


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