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United States v. Grace

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
DOMINIQUE GRACE, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Gloria M. Navarro, Chief Judge United States District Court

         Pending before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of the Honorable United States Magistrate Judge Carl W. Hoffman, (ECF No. 246), recommending that Defendant Dominique Grace (“Defendant”) is competent to stand trial. Defendant timely filed his Objection, (ECF No. 257), and the Government timely filed a Response, (ECF No. 263). For the reasons discussed below, the Court overrules Defendant's Objection.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 23, 2016, Defendant was charged with conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 846(a)(1), 841(a)(1) and 841(b)(1)(A)(iii). (See Indictment, ECF No. 1). On April 27, 2017, Defense Counsel filed a Motion for Hearing to Determine Competency because he was concerned Defendant demonstrated low cognitive abilities and an inability to understand documents. (See Mor. for Hr'g to Determine Competency 3:24-26, ECF No. 148). On May 23, 2018, the Court determined that good cause existed to order Defendant to undergo a psychiatric or psychological examination by a licensed or certified psychiatrist or psychologist. (See Order, ECF No. 156).

         Defense counsel hired Dr. Thomas Kinsora (“Dr. Kinsora”), a neuro-psychologist, to assess Defendant's level of functioning, and he opines that Defendant is not competent to assist counsel. (See Mot. for Hr'g to Determine Competency, Def.'s Ex. B at 16, ECF No. 148). “[T]he government obtained a report from [Dr. Jaime Jauregui (“Dr. Jauregui”)], a forensic psychologist at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (“MCC”), Federal Bureau of Prisons, San Diego, which opined that [Defendant] was competent to assist his counsel, and to understand the nature of the proceedings against him.” (R. & R. 2:3-6, ECF No. 246); (see Exhibit List, Gov't.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 224). As a result of the doctors' differing opinions, the Court held a competency hearing on November 28, 2017, and took the matter under submission. (See Mins. of Proceeding, ECF No. 223).

         At the hearing, evidence was presented that Dr. Kinsora conducted an evaluation of Defendant “over a period of six hours at the federal detention facility, and collected information regarding his social, educational, vocational, criminal and medical histories, and additionally conducted numerous neuro-psychological tests.” (R. & R. 5:20-22, ECF No. 246); (see Exhibit List, Def.'s Ex. B at 32, ECF No. 224). Dr. Kinsora testified that his tests revealed that Defendant is intellectually disabled and functionally illiterate. (R. & R. 5:24-6:2, ECF No. 246). Dr. Kinsora opined that Defendant “would be able to understand a conspiracy allegation if it were explained to him.” (Id. 6:11-12). Additionally, and on cross-examination Dr. Kinsora “changed his opinion and indicated that [Defendant] was able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings.” (Id. 5:14-17).

         Dr. Jauregui conducted an evaluation of Defendant at MCC over seven different days totaling an eighteen-hour period from July 5, 2017 until August 4, 2017. (Id. 7:3-4); (see Exhibit List, Gov't.'s Ex. 2 at 15, ECF No. 224). Dr. Jauregui performed clinical interviews, observed Defendant's behavior, reviewed legal documents with Defendant, administered psychological tests, reviewed recorded phone calls made by Defendant, and consulted with MCC staff. (R. & R. 7:5-8). Dr. Jauregui “diagnosed Grace with Intellectual Disability, Mild, ” and opined that Defendant's “disability does not substantially impair his present ability to understand the nature and consequences of the court proceedings brought against him, or substantially impair his ability to properly assist counsel in a defense.” (Id. 8:6, 10:15-17); (see Exhibit List, Gov't.'s Ex. 2 at 21, ECF No. 224). After a review of the evidence presented, Judge Hoffman determined that although Defendant “suffers from a mild intellectual disability, it does not substantially impair his competence to stand trial.” (R. & R. 13:23-24).

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Objection to a Magistrate's Report and Recommendation

         A party may file specific written objections to the findings and recommendations of a United States Magistrate Judge made pursuant to Local Rule IB 1-4. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); D. Nev. R. IB 3-2. Upon the filing of such objections, the Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Report to which objections are made. Id. The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations of the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); D. Nev. IB 3-2(b).

         B. Competency to Stand Trial

         The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits trying a defendant who is mentally incompetent. Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 354 (1996); Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378 (1966). “A person whose mental condition is such that he lacks the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his defense may not be subjected to a trial.” Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171 (1975).

         The treatment of defendants suffering from a mental disease or defect is governed by the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241-48. The Federal Criminal Code establishes a multi-part statutory scheme for addressing defendants suffering from a mental disease or defect who have pending federal charges. If a question is raised concerning whether a defendant is competent to stand trial or assist in his defense, the court first determines whether the defendant suffers 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), and (d); see also United States v. Friedman, 366 F.3d 975, 980 (9th Cir. 2004). Section 4241(d) establishes a two-part disjunctive test of competency. Id. A defendant must be able both to understand the nature of the proceedings against him, and to assist properly in his defense. Id.

         The Supreme Court held that the test for determining whether a defendant is competent 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 as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960); see also Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 356 (1996) (quoting Dusky and stating the test for incompetence is well settled). It is the Government's burden to prove by ...


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