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Gamble v. State (9/19/2014) ap-2428

Gamble v. State (9/19/2014) ap-2428

                                                             NOTICE  

           The text of this opinion can be corrected before the opinion is published in the                       Pacific  

          Reporter.   Readers are encouraged to bring typographical or other formal errors to   

          the attention of the Clerk of the Appellate Courts.  



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                   IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF THE STATE OF ALASKA  



JOHNNIE J. GAMBLE,                                            )  

                                                              )            Court of Appeals No. A-11042 

                                      Appellant,              )            Trial Court Nos. 1SI-10-282 CR  

                                                              )                        & 1SI-10-407 CR 

                  v.                                          )  

                                                              )                           O P I N I O N  

STATE OF ALASKA,                                              )  

                                                              )  

                                      Appellee.               )  

                                                              )            No. 2428 - September 19, 2014  



                     Appeal  from  the  District  Court,  First  Judicial  District,  Sitka,  

                     David V. George, Judge.  



                     Appearances:  Kelly  Taylor,  Assistant  Public  Defender,  and  

                     Quinlan Steiner, Public Defender, Anchorage, for the Appellant.  

                     Jean E. Seaton, Assistant District Attorney, Sitka, and Michael  

                                                                                                

                     C. Geraghty, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.  



                     Before:  Mannheimer,  Chief  Judge,  and  Allard,  Judge,  and  

                     Hanley, District Court Judge.*  

                                                                   



                     Judge ALLARD.  



                     After being charged with three counts of violating a domestic violence  



protective order, Johnnie J. Gamble was found incompetent to stand trial and committed  

                                                                         



          *     Sitting  by  assignment  made  pursuant  to  article  IV,  section  16  of  the  Alaska  



Constitution and Administrative Rule 24(d).  


----------------------- Page 2-----------------------

to  the  Alaska  Psychiatric  Institute  (API)  for  90   days   in   an  effort  to  restore  him  to  



                  1 

competency.   At the end of the 90-day commitment, the trial court concluded that Gamble  



was competent to proceed to trial, despite his attorney's continuing objections that Gamble  



could  not  meaningfully  participate  in  his  own  defense.    Gamble  was  subsequently  



convicted of two counts of violating a protective order.  



                   Gamble appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in finding that he was  



competent to stand trial.  For the reasons explained in this opinion, we affirm the trial  

                                                                               



court's ruling.  



         Facts and proceedings  



                   The  State  charged  Gamble  in  two  separate  cases  with  three  counts  of  

                                                



violating a domestic violence protective order.   Shortly after Gamble's arraignment,  

                                                                       



Gamble's attorney requested a competency evaluation of Gamble to determine if he was  

                                                                                  



legally competent to stand trial.  



                   Dr. Lois Michaud, a forensic psychologist at API, conducted a competency  

                          



evaluation of Gamble on January 19, 2011. Dr. Michaud reported that Gamble was very  

                                                                                                    



delusional and would be unable to consult with his attorney in a rational manner or present  



a rational defense.  She observed that Gamble's delusions included his belief that he had  

                             



already been to trial and that he needed to talk to a physicist because, in his words, "the  

                                                                                                            



theory of causality, cause and effect, everything is created by God and every physical thing  



possibly has already happened and can happen again."  Dr. Michaud concluded based  



on the intensity and intrusiveness of Gamble's delusions that he was not competent to  



stand trial.  



          1   See AS 12.47.100.  



                                                          - 2 -                                                        2428  


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                   Superior Court Judge David V. George, sitting as a district court judge, found  



Gamble incompetent to stand trial.  Pursuant to AS 12.47.110(a), Judge George then  



ordered  Gamble  committed  to  API  for  90  days  for  further  evaluation  and  possible  



restoration to competency.  



                   Near  the  end  of  the  90  days,  Dr.  Michaud  re-evaluated  Gamble  and  



concluded that his mental condition had improved under the structured setting of the  

                                                                                                                     



psychiatric hospital and that he was now competent to stand trial.  At the subsequent  



competency hearing, Dr. Michaud testified that when she first interviewed Gamble in  

                   



January, his delusional ramblings and the intrusiveness of his delusional thoughts made  

                                                                                    



him very difficult to interview.  Gamble had greatly improved by the time he was re- 



evaluated, and his delusions were significantly "less intrusive" than before.  Dr. Michaud  



concluded that while Gamble's delusions had not entirely disappeared, they no longer  



presented the same barrier to coherent and rational communication as before.  



                   However, Dr. Michaud specifically warned the court and the parties that  

                                   



exposure to an unstructured environment (like jail or trial) could cause Gamble's delusions  



to become more intrusive, and that Gamble's attorney "would be the first to know" if  

                                                     



Gamble  began  to  experience  the  type  of  active  delusions  that  would  render  him  

                                                                                                 



incompetent.  



                   Gamble's attorney disagreed with Dr. Michaud's conclusion that Gamble  

                                                                                           



was competent to stand trial.  The attorney argued that the nature of Gamble's delusions  

                                                                                              



- his belief that everything happens in a loop, and that everything has happened before,  

                                         



including his trial - meant that Gamble was unable to effectively assist in his own  

                                                                                                             



defense, and that his case should therefore be dismissed under AS 12.47.110(b).  



                   Judge George concluded that the mere existence of Gamble's delusions,  



standing alone, did not necessarily prevent him from communicating with a reasonable  

                                                                             



degree of rational understanding with his attorney or otherwise prevent him from meeting  



                                                           -  3 -                                                     2428
  


----------------------- Page 4-----------------------

the  standard  for  competency.    After  observing  Gamble's  demeanor  at  the  second  

       



competency hearing, the court found that Gamble was doing better and that he was not  

                                                                             



in one of his "more agitated states."  The court further found that Gamble "appreciate[d]  

                                                                       



the nature of the proceedings," understood the role of the parties and court, and was able  

                          



to speak and convey thoughts to his attorney, including his various disagreements with  

                                                        



his attorney's litigation strategy.  The court therefore found Gamble competent to stand  

                                                                                                        



trial and scheduled a trial calendar call for the following month.  



                    At the calendar call a month later, Gamble's attorney  indicated that he  

                                                                                                          



continued to have difficulties communicating with Gamble.  He requested that the trial  

                                              



judge communicate directly with Gamble to determine how Gamble would like to proceed.  



Judge George spoke to Gamble about the various options, and Gamble decided that he  

                                                                                                             



wanted  to  go  to  trial,  that  he  wanted  a  jury  trial,  and  that  he  wanted  the  two  cases  



consolidated.  The judge granted these requests and also made the following findings:  



                     I should note for the record, there has been some concern in  

                                   

                    the past about Mr. Gamble's mental state ....  Today I found  

                                                                                          

                    that he is responsive to the Court's inquiry; he appears to have  

                                                    

                     a grasp of the understanding [of] his options and has been able  

                    to express himself and do so coherently and I don't have any  

                                                                                                   

                    reason to ... believe that he's not able to proceed at this time.  

                                                                                                  

                     So I want to make that finding for the record.  



                    A week later, on the morning of trial, Gamble's attorney renewed his motion  



to dismiss under AS 12.47.110(b).  Gamble's attorney again argued that the nature of  

                                                                                                                 



Gamble's delusions - his belief that everything had happened before and could happen  

                                                         



again - made it impossible to communicate meaningfully with Gamble regarding his  

               



defense, and that he was not competent to stand trial.  



                     In response to the renewed motion, the prosecutor offered to leave the  



courtroom so the defense attorney could supplement the record with any specific examples  



                                                              - 4 -                                                          2428
  


----------------------- Page 5-----------------------

of the communication problems he was having with Gamble.  But the defense attorney   



indicated that he did not have anything to add to his argument at the earlier hearings.  



                   The judge then asked the defense attorney whether he believed Gamble's  



situation was any different than it had been at the last calendar call - that is, whether  

                                                                                           



Gamble's condition had deteriorated in the week since the judge made his most recent  

                                                                                                      



findings related to Gamble's competency.  The attorney indicated that the situation was  



the same.  Based on this response, the court declined to revisit its prior competency ruling  

                                                



and reaffirmed its ruling that Gamble was competent to proceed.  



                   The case then went to trial.  The jury convicted Gamble of two counts of  



violating a protective order and acquitted him of the third count.  



                   This appeal followed.  



         Did the trial court err in finding Gamble competent to stand trial?  



                   Under Alaska law, a defendant is incompetent to stand trial if, as a result  

                                        



of a mental disease or defect, the defendant is "unable to understand the proceedings  

against  the  defendant  or  to  assist  in  the  defendant's  own  defense."2  

                                                                                                        This  standard  



                                                                                                          

necessarily incorporates the federal constitutional standard for competency to stand trial,  



which requires a defendant to have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings  



against him and to have a sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a  

reasonable degree of rational understanding.3  

                                                                  



         2    AS 12.47.100(a).  



         3    See Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960).  



                                                          - 5 -                                                       2428  


----------------------- Page 6-----------------------

                      A defendant who is incompetent to stand trial may not be tried, convicted,                

or sentenced for the commission of a crime so long as the incompetency exists.4                                                         The  



conviction of a defendant who is not competent to stand trial violates due process of law.5  

                                                                                                                                   



                                                                                                                              

                      Because  the  integrity  of  the  judicial  proceeding  is  at  stake  when  the  



competency of a criminal defendant is in question, a trial court has a duty to order a  



competency evaluation whenever there is good cause to believe that the defendant may  

be incompetent to stand trial.6  

                                                    Additionally, because a defendant's mental state may  



deteriorate under the pressures of incarceration or trial, a trial court is required to be  

responsive to competency concerns throughout the criminal proceeding.7  

                                                                                                                          



                      In the current case, Gamble does not dispute the trial court's finding on the  



first  prong  of  the  competency  standard.    That  is,  Gamble  does  not  dispute  that  he  

                                                                                      



understood the proceedings against him.  Instead, his challenge is exclusively to the  



second prong of the competency test - whether he could participate in his own defense  

                                                                                                                     

and consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.8  

                                                                                                                                      



                                                                      

                      Gamble asserts on appeal, as he did below, that the nature of his delusional  



                                                                                     

beliefs - which made him believe that everything had already happened - prevented  



           4    AS 12.47.100(a).  



           5    Drope v. Missouri , 420 U.S. 162, 171 (1975);                         see also McKinney v. State               , 566 P.2d  



653,  658  (Alaska  1977)  ("The  accuracy  of  the  factfinding  process,  the  philosophy  of  

punishment and the appearance of fairness in the adversary system are severely compromised  

by the conviction and sentencing of a defendant who is unable to consult with his attorney   

and rationally understand the charges against him.").   



           6    Leonard v. State , 658 P.2d 798, 799 (Alaska App. 1983).  



           7    See Smiloff v. State, 579 P.2d 28, 36 ("[T]he duty to determine competency is not  

                                                                                               

one that can be once determined and then ignored."); AS 12.47.100(b).  



           8    See Dusky, 362 U.S. at 402.  



                                                                   -  6 -                                                              2428
  


----------------------- Page 7-----------------------

him from being able to assist in his defense or communicate with his attorney with a  



reasonable degree of rational understanding.  



                     But as the Alaska Supreme Court has previously recognized, "[t]he presence  

of some degree of mental illness is not an invariable barrier to prosecution."9  A defendant  



may have some degree of impaired functioning but still be "minimally able to aid in his  

                                                       

defense and to understand the nature of the proceedings against him."10  To a large extent,  



                                                                                                  11  

therefore, "each case must be considered on its particular facts."                                    



                                                                                       

                     Here, the record indicates that the trial court took the competency concerns  



                 

raised  by  the  defense  counsel  very  seriously.    The  court  held  multiple  hearings  on  



Gamble's  competency,  including  a  full  evidentiary  hearing  at  which  the  forensic  



                      

psychologist testified and was questioned by the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and  



                                                                                                                                12  

the judge.  Moreover, the court did not simply defer to the psychologist's opinion.                                                 



                                                                                        

Instead, the court made its own independent findings and continued to make additional  



                                         

findings at later hearings, demonstrating the court's awareness that Gamble's situation  



was not necessarily stable and that the highly intrusive delusions that previously presented  



a barrier to his competency could quickly return.  



                                                                           

                     On appeal, Gamble argues that the trial court should have deferred to the  



                                                                                                       

defense attorney's assertion that Gamble was unable to assist in his defense because the  



defense attorney was the only person in a position to make that assessment.   



          9    Schade v. State, 512 P.2d 907, 914 (Alaska 1973) (footnote omitted).  



           10  Id . (citations omitted).  



           11  Id .   



           12  See  Adams v. State ,   829 P.2d 1201, 1207-08 (Alaska App. 1992) (Bryner, C.J.,  



concurring) (determination of competency is ultimately a legal matter, not a medical matter       

and superior court's deference to psychologist's opinion amounted to a failure to exercise   

judicial discretion and constituted an independent ground for reversal).  



                                                              -  7 -                                                         2428
  


----------------------- Page 8-----------------------

                     We agree that a defense attorney is in a unique position with regard to  



assessing a defendant's ability to assist in his own defense and that a defense attorney's  

                                                                                              



assessment of the defendant's functioning is therefore an important factor for the court  

                                                  

to consider.13                                                                            

                       But ultimately the question of whether the defendant is competent to stand  



                                             

trial is a determination that the trial court must make independently based on all of the  

information before it.14  

                                       Thus, just as it would be error for the trial court to defer to the  



                                                                                                                          

forensic psychologist's assessment of Gamble's competency, so too would it be error for  



the trial court to simply adopt the  defense attorney's perspective of the defendant's  



incompetency,  without  making  its  own  independent  determination  based  on  all  the  

                                                                   



information before it.  



                     We note that despite being given the opportunity to provide more specific  

                                                                           



information to the trial court regarding the communication problems with Gamble, the  

                                                                                                                



defense attorney stated that he had no further information for the court to consider.  We  

                                                                                                                     



also note that the attorney did not request an additional forensic competency evaluation.  

                            



Nor did the attorney assert that Gamble's functioning had deteriorated since the previous  



hearing or that the court should make new findings on Gamble's competency.  Instead,  

                               



the defense attorney repeated his previous argument -  that the nature of Gamble's  

                                                                                                     



           13   See, e.g., McKinney, 566 P.2d at 660 (recognizing that a defense attorney's opinion  



on the client's competency or incompetency is an important, but not dispositive, factor for     

trial  court  to  consider  in  its  competency  determination);  see  also  ABA   Criminal  Justice  

Mental Health Standards 7-4.2 & commentary (addressing criminal defense attorney's ethical  

obligations to raise competency concerns even over defendant's objection and even though   

it may result in longer pre-trial detention and/or the stigma of institutionalization).  



           14   See, e.g., Adams ,  829 P.2d at 1207-08;                    United States v. Weston             , 36 F. Supp.2d 7,  



9 (1999) (citations omitted) ("[I]t is the duty of the District Court to make a specific judicial             

determination  of  competency  to  stand  trial,  rather  than  accept  psychiatric  evidence  as  

determinative of this issue.").  



                                                                 -  8 -                                                            2428
  


----------------------- Page 9-----------------------

delusions alone made Gamble incompetent to stand trial, and that the case should be  



dismissed on that basis.   



                Given the record before us, we conclude that the trial court did not err in  



rejecting this argument and in finding that Gamble was competent to stand trial.  



        Conclusion  



                We AFFIRM the judgment of the superior court.  



                                                 -  9 -                                          2428
  

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