United States District Court, E.D. California
January 7, 2019, defendant John Anthony Ayon requested a
court-ordered mental health evaluation to determine his
competency to stand trial under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). The
government did not object. ECF No. 35. The court committed
defendant to the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for a
psychiatric and/or psychological examination. Order, ECF No.
37. The Bureau of Prisons returned its forensic evaluation of
defendant on April 9, 2019. ECF No. 49. Defendant's
counsel filed a competency hearing brief in which he urged
the court to hold the defendant incompetent to stand trial.
ECF No. 62. Concurrently, he filed a request to seal, ECF No.
61, report of examining neuropsychologist Dr. John Wicks,
PhD, ECF No. 63, report of BOP forensic psychologist Dr.
Samantha Shelton, Psy.D., ECF No. 64, and counsel's own
declaration, ECF No. 65. Given that Dr. Shelton referenced
defendant's email communications with third parties, the
court directed the emails be provided for in camera
review; the court received the emails, which are voluminous,
on October 16, 2019. See ECF No. 102. The court
shared the emails, subject to a confidentiality restriction,
with both counsel after a status conference on September 30,
2019. See ECF No. 77. The parties then argued their
respective positions at a further status on October 28, 2019.
ECF No. 90.
reviewed the evidence and the filings in this matter, the
court denies defendant's request to have him declared
incompetent to stand trial.
John Ayon was arrested by a San Joaquin County Sheriff's
Deputy on May 22, 2017. Compl., ECF No. 1 at 3. Deputy George
Negrete allegedly observed him driving a GMC Acadia SUV that
was pacing a Chevrolet Camaro, which Deputy Negrete believed
indicated possible narcotics trafficking. Id. Deputy
Negrete pulled Ayon over for a nonoperational brake light and
failing to maintain his lane. Id. After a drug
detection dog alerted on an exterior sniff of the vehicle, a
search of the trunk area yielded a duffel bag with
approximately 40 pounds of methamphetamine in cellophane
wrapped bundles. Id. at 4. Ayon was arrested.
Id. Another deputy arrested the driver of the
Camaro, Raul Rikards Carillo, and found two pounds of
methamphetamine in his car. Id. at 4-5. Both men
were charged with, inter alia, violations of 21
U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), possession of methamphetamine with
intent to distribute. Superseding Indictment, ECF No. 19.
defense counsel interacted with Ayon over the course of a few
months, counsel retained neuropsychologist Dr. John Wicks to
evaluate Ayon's mental competency to stand trial. Minutes
for Status Conference, ECF No. 32; Order for Mental
Examination, ECF No. 37. This court ordered the U.S. Bureau
of Prisons to examine Ayon to determine whether he was
mentally incompetent to stand trial. Id. Forensic
psychologist Dr. Samantha Shelton evaluated Ayon at the
Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles
(“MDC”) and issued a report on April 8, 2019.
Report of Dr. Shelton, ECF No. 49. As noted, the court
ordered the MDC to produce the emails between Ayon and third
parties that Dr. Shelton relied on in her report. Order, ECF
No. 69. The MDC produced the emails in camera to the court,
and the court provided the emails to counsel. Emails, ECF No.
individual is incompetent to stand trial if he suffers from a
mental disease or defect that renders him (1) unable to
understand the nature and consequences of the legal
proceedings against him; or (2) unable to assist properly in
his defense. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a); see also Drope v.
Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171 (1975). The test for a
defendant's competency to stand trial is whether he has
sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a
reasonable degree of rational understanding and whether he
has a rational and factual understanding of the proceeding
against him. Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402
(1960). The government has the burden of showing a defendant
is competent to stand trial by a preponderance of the
evidence. United States v. Hoskie, 950 F.2d 1388,
1392 (9th Cir. 1991).
defense neuropsychologist, Dr. Wicks, performed a battery of
tests on Ayon while Ayon was housed at the Sacramento County
Jail. Dr. Wicks summarizes the result of his testing as
In general, the examinee has problems with basic attention,
concentration, short-term verbal memory, verbal abstraction,
and verbal learning. His impairments in executive functioning
include verbal abstraction abilities, sequencing information,
shifting efficiently between overlearned sets of information,
and novel problem solving with information feedback. Such
problems are frequently associated with poor judgment and
ability to function well in everyday life.
Report of Dr. John Wicks (“Wicks Report”), ECF
No. 63 at 21.
to Dr. Wicks' report, Ayon's cognitive abilities
display a split between metrics of verbal intelligence, which
are quite low, and nonverbal metrics, which are average or
even above average. For instance, Ayon's Wechsler Adult
Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) Composite Score
for Verbal Comprehension is 66, “Extremely Low/Mentally
Retarded” and his Composite Score for Perceptual
Reasoning is 113, “High Average/Bright Normal.”
Wicks Report at 6. Dr. Wicks also diagnoses Ayon with
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Specific Learning
Disorder, Stimulant Use Disorder, and General Personality
Disorder “with avoidant and passive-dependent traits in
addition to social immaturity.” Wicks Report at 24.
Shelton performed her own evaluation of Ayon on order of the
court on January 31, 2019, and produced a report dated April
8, 2019. Report of Dr. Samantha Shelton, Psy.D.
(“Shelton Report”), ECF No. 64. She relied in
part on recorded phone calls and intercepted emails between
Ayon and third parties in producing her report. Shelton
Report at 5-6. She concluded his emails “were not
indicative of an individual with significant deficits with
reading, comprehension, and writing, and he was able to
engage in reciprocal, logical, and goal-orientated
conversation.” Shelton Report at 8. According to Dr.
Shelton's report, “Mr. Ayon did not participate in
the assessment to determine whether he understood the nature
and consequences of the court proceedings against him.”
Shelton Report at 13. Nonetheless, Dr. Shelton was able to
conduct a general assessment of Ayon's psychological
functioning not directed toward the legal standard for
competence and a full review of his emails. Dr. Shelton
concluded that Ayon “appears fully competent to
understand the nature and consequences of the court
proceedings against him, and to properly assist counsel in
his defense.” Id. at 14.
emails show Ayon likely did not participate in Dr.
Shelton's direct evaluation of his competency out of
frustration and obstinacy. Before his examination with Dr.
Shelton, he sent an email to Letitia Ruiz, the mother of his
child, in which he states, “they had 2 months i quit,
its over, im done, im waiting to talk to my phyc [sic] to
mandar todo esto ala verga [roughly translated
“to f--- off”] its ovio [obvious] ima do some
time now.” ECF No. 102 at 282 (punctuation and spelling
in original). In another email to Ruiz, Ayon states,
“my psych came today to talk/test me. i told her