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

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


           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.  

                                       303 K Street, Anchorage, Alaska  99501

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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  


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  

----------------------- Page 3-----------------------

                   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  



                   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,  


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  


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.  


                We AFFIRM the judgment of the superior court.  

                                                 -  9 -                                          2428

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