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Gates v. Chappell

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 7, 2014

OSCAR GATES, Petitioner,
KEVIN CHAPPELL, Warden, Respondent.


WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge.


Petitioner Oscar Gates was convicted in 1981 of, inter alia, murder (Cal. Penal Code 187(a)), accompanied by the robbery-murder special circumstance (Section 190.2 (a)(17)(A)), two counts of robbery (Section 211), assault with a deadly weapon (Section 245(a)), possession of a firearm by an ex-felon (Section 12021), and escape (Section 4532(b)). His federal habeas petition was initially filed in 1988. In 2000, this matter was transferred to the undersigned and was eventually stayed by our court of appeals, based on petitioner's incompetency. Rohan ex. rel . Gates v. Woodford ("Gates"), 334 F.3d 803 (9th Cir. 2003).

In 2004, petitioner was again adjudicated to be mentally incompetent (petitioner had previously been found incompetent in 1994) and the stay of this matter remained in place. At that time, attorneys for petitioner and respondent agreed that petitioner was incompetent. On January 8, 2013, however, the Supreme Court abrogated Gates and held that an incompetent capital prisoner has no right to an indefinite stay of habeas proceedings. Ryan v. Gonzales, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 706-09. The Supreme Court further held that while the decision to grant a temporary stay is within the discretion of the district court, an indefinite stay is inappropriate if there is no reasonable hope the petitioner will regain competence in the foreseeable future. Id.

Following Ryan, the stay in this matter was subsequently lifted, and the parties commenced briefing on the merits (and inconclusive settlement proceedings). In addition, the Court ordered the parties to meet and confer, and to present a joint plan for further examination of petitioner Gates. The parties were unable to submit a joint plan, though they did find some areas of agreement. In addition, the parties were unable to agree on a mental health professional; instead, both parties submitted three potential experts to be considered by the Court for appointment.

The Court appointed Dr. Jessica Ferranti to examine petitioner (Dkt. No. 740). Subsequent to her examination, Dr. Ferranti submitted a thorough and detailed report of her findings and conclusions. Both sides filed responses to her report. Additionally, both sides filed briefs addressing the following issues: (1) whether the State of California/California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has a legal obligation to provide treatment to an incompetent prisoner for restoration of competency; and (2) whether a federal court in a habeas proceeding has the authority to mandate such treatment. The Court has now reviewed all of the pleadings submitted by the parties, as well as all relevant documents in the voluminous record of this case, and hereby enters the following order.



The Court ordered a competency examination of petitioner pursuant to Rule 35(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After careful review of the proposed experts submitted by petitioner and respondent, the Court appointed Dr. Ferranti to examine petitioner Oscar Gates. She was retained by the Court as an independent expert and not as a representative of either party.

Dr. Ferranti's exam was focused on determining petitioner's competency, as well as his current symptomology, details of any diagnosed illnesses, and his possible amenability to treatment. Her report, inter alia, summarized the purpose and procedure of the examinations conducted; listed any materials considered in conducting the evaluation; documented petitioner's behavior, statements and condition during the examination; stated the clinical basis for any diagnosis; and stated her professional diagnoses. She considered petitioner's competency in accordance with the following standard: whether petitioner Gates has the capacity to appreciate his position and make rational choices with respect to proceedings in this Court or, on the other hand, whether he is suffering from a mental disease, disorder or defect that may substantially affect his capacity. In addition, Dr. Ferranti considered whether petitioner currently has the capacity to understand his position and communicate rationally with counsel regarding this matter.

Dr. Ferranti concluded with reasonable medical certainty that, as the result of mental disorder, petitioner is incompetent, i.e. that he does not have the capacity to make rational choices with respect to his Court proceedings or to communicate rationally with his attorneys (Ferranti Report at 16-18). She diagnosed petitioner with Delusional Disorder, Persecutory Type, a major mental disorder, and Antisocial Personality Disorder ( id. at 11-15). Additionally, she concluded that petitioner was not malingering ( id. at 15-16). Her diagnosis and conclusion are consistent with those of previous doctors who have examined petitioner. Both sides agree that Gates is incompetent. That, however, is no longer grounds to stay the case indefinitely. See Gonzales, 133 S.Ct. at 706-09.


The main issue now is whether to mandate that the state try to restore Gates to competency and to stay the case in the meantime. As requested by the Court, Dr. Ferranti also considered whether petitioner's competency could be restored. She concluded that, in her professional medical opinion, petitioner's prognosis for treatment is poor (Ferranti Report at 18). The bases for her opinion were as follows ( ibid. ):

1. Of all psychotic symtomatology, delusions are the most difficult symptom to treat and can often [] remain refractory to antipsychotic medication. Of all types of delusions, persecutory delusions are the most difficult type of ...

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