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United States v. Ayon

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 18, 2019



         On 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.

         Having reviewed the evidence and the filings in this matter, the court denies defendant's request to have him declared incompetent to stand trial.


         Defendant 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.

         After 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. 102.


         An 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).


         The 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 follows:

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.

         According 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.

         Dr. 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.

         The 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 ...

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