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MOORING v. LEWIS

March 27, 2003

DARRELL JAMES MOORING, PETITIONER,
v.
GAIL LEWIS, WARDEN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Illston, United States District Judge.

ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

INTRODUCTION

This matter is now before the court for consideration of the merits of Darrell Mooring's pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus concerning his 1996 conviction. For the reasons discussed below, the petition will be denied.

BACKGROUND

A. Case History

Darrell Mooring pled guilty and was convicted in the Contra Costa County Superior Court in 1996 of robbery and sale of cocaine. The guilty plea resulted in a considerable benefit to Mooring, as he had been charged with these two crimes and was alleged to have suffered two prior convictions, which exposed him to a potential sentence of 66 years' imprisonment. Pursuant to the plea bargain, Mooring was sentenced to twelve years in state prison. He unsuccessfully sought a certificate of probable cause to appeal his conviction, thus ending any possibility of direct review of his conviction. He filed several unsuccessful petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court.

Mooring filed this action in January 2000. His federal habeas petition asserts two claims for relief. First, he appears to allege that he was denied due process because the court failed to hold a competency hearing during the 1996 proceedings. Second, he alleges that he was deprived of due process because he was incompetent at the time he entered his guilty plea in 1996.

B. The Mental Competency Evidence

Although he was originally represented by counsel in the 1996 proceedings, Mooring's motion to represent himself was granted.*fn1 The court sua sponte ordered an evaluation by a psychiatrist in September 1995. Later, new counsel was appointed to represent Mooring. That new counsel had Mooring evaluated a second time by a psychologist in January 1996.

The issues in the present case concern Mooring's mental competency in the 1996 proceedings. The evidence concerning his mental competency comes largely from the reports following the two mental evaluations described below.

1. Dr. Noonan's Report

The first evaluation was conducted by psychiatrist Charles Noonan, who evaluated Mooring and sent him a letter reporting his findings on September 29, 1995. Dr. Noonan apparently was appointed by the court acting sua sponte to determine if Mooring was competent in the early 1970s when he entered guilty pleas in prior cases. The parties suggest that Dr. Noonan was also supposed to evaluate Mooring's competency as of 1995, but Dr. Noonan's report contains no finding on that topic, making it highly doubtful that he was asked to provide an evaluation of Mooring's competency as of 1995.

Dr. Noonan questioned the validity of Mooring's prior convictions in 1970 and 1973 because it appeared that in the early 1970s Mooring was "essentially illiterate," had only a "marginal capacity to process information," and had an IQ in 1974 of 74. Sept, 29, 1995 letter from Charles Noonan, M.D. to Darrell Mooring, attached as Exh. A to Respondent's Exh. 1 (hereinafter "Noonan letter"), p. 6. Dr. Noonan explained how Mooring had improved his understanding of things over the last couple of decades. Mooring had told Dr. Noonan that in the 1970-1976 period, he "gradually learned how to use words and put them into sentences, and then be able to understand what was going on." Id. 5. Mooring also told Dr. Noonan "that in 1978, when he was housed in San Quentin, he was a floor sweeper at that time, and ran into another inmate by the name of Stanley Wallace, who was a law clerk, and used to talk to him about law cases that were in the books, and the defendant relates that it was at this time that he felt he began to take a genuine interest in a legal career, and began to work on reading materials. The defendant relates that he feels that at the present time, `This time in jail, I feel strongly that the district attorney, Mr. McTighe, is upset at me over my helping these two other inmates with their murder beefs with my knowledge and with my legal background, now.'" Id. Dr. Noonan opined that Mooring "presents a rather unusual case for having been essentially illiterate, and having a marginal capacity to process information, and to effectively ...


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