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United States v. Hubbard

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

August 30, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
RONALD BRANDON HUBBARD, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION

          J. GREGORY WEHRMAN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         On August 29, 2018, the Court conducted a competency hearing in this matter, per 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241 and 4247(d).[1] D.E. 197. The hearing followed a motion for a competency evaluation filed by Defendant's attorney on April 9, 2018. D.E. 116. The Court granted the motion, ordered an evaluation in a custodial setting, and Defendant was remanded to the custody of the United States Marshal. D.E. 125, 136. The Court, upon the required findings, ordered the psychiatric or psychological examination pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241(b). D.E. 136.

         The Court ordered the examination to be performed at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts. D.E. 236. All parties had access to the Forensic Report (“the Report”) issued by Dr. Chad Tillbrook, Ph.D. D.E. 190. In the Report, Dr. Tillbrook opined that Defendant is competent for trial purposes. Id. at 18-19. After receipt of the Report, the Court set a hearing (D.E. 189), and the parties appeared with counsel (D.E. 197). During that hearing, the parties stipulated to the admissibility of the Report, as well as to the Report's findings. The parties also waived introduction of other proof or argument and waived the right to examine or cross-examine the evaluator. Id.

         Section 4241 codifies the competency principles of Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960). Thus, to be competent, a defendant must have “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” and “a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” Dusky, 362 U.S. at 402; see also 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a) (phrasing the test as whether a defendant is “unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense”). Section 4247(d) of 18 U.S.C. governs the competency hearing and assures certain trial-type rights. These include the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses, and the right to participate in the hearing. See 18 U.S.C. § 4241(c) (referring to the hearing procedures outlined in section 4247(d)).

         Ultimately, per section 4241(d) and based on the hearing, a defendant is not competent if, “after the hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant” meets the incompetency definition of section 4241(a). This framework does not dictate which party bears the burden, which has led to disagreements among the Circuits. See United States v. Carter, No. 1:12-CR-29, 2013 WL 6668715, at *11 (E.D. Tenn. Dec. 18, 2013) (compiling cases).[2] Here, the proof is not in any way disputed, and the Court need not resolve the burden allocation question. See Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 427, 449 (1992) (indicating that argument over burden, in competency context, only matters in “narrow class” of cases where the proof is “in equipoise”).

         Defendant stipulated as to both the admissibility and the substance of the Report. Accordingly, the only proof concerning Defendant's competency is the expert analysis of Dr. Tillbrook. The Report reflects personal observation, a review of Defendant's available medical history and status, sufficient psychological testing, and a thorough assessment of Defendant's abilities in light of the applicable competency standards. The author analyzed Defendant's history, course of evaluation, and testing performance. Dr. Tillbrook directly observed Defendant via interviews and subjected him to a battery of psychological testing. D.E. 190. Dr. Tillbrook also made contact with the prosecutor and defense counsel. Id. at 2. The evaluator also secured and reviewed some legal documents and analyzed records of Defendant's outgoing phone calls made while he was at FMC Devens. Id. at 2.

         The Report is a thorough and comprehensive assessment of Defendant's mental and psychiatric condition. Notably:

(1) The Report indicates Defendant had “a tumultuous childhood” that included physical abuse and neglect. D.E. 190 at 3. His mother and stepfather abused drugs, and Defendant was placed in an alternative school due to behavior problems. Id.
(2) As memorialized in his bond report, Defendant reported that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. Id. at 5. Clarifying earlier statements, he told the examiner he had never been psychologically hospitalized as an adult, but he had been given Ritalin and Adderall while an adolescent. Id.
(3) Defendant reported “a lengthy history of abusing alcohol and illicit substances.” Id. He began drinking alcohol at age 11, using marijuana at age 13, and taking large quantities of “benzos” since childhood. Id. He had recently been using synthetic cannabinoids to defeat drug testing while on probation and had “a long history of abusing opioids.” Id. at 6. He used so much methamphetamine from 2015 to 2017 that he felt “psychotic for three years.” Id. He also used synthetic substances such as MDMA “a lot.” Id.
(4) As memorialized in his bond report, Defendant received substance abuse treatment at Crossroads in 2016, but failed to complete the program. Id. He also had six months of court-ordered outpatient treatment at Cumberland Comprehensive Care, to which he later self-admitted for another six months. Id.
(5) During the examination period, Defendant was “oriented to person, place, time, and circumstances.” Id. at 7. He was cooperative. No. psychotic symptoms were observed, and he denied having any. He was “future-oriented and goal focused.” Id. “His thought process was organized, logical, and goal-directed.” Id. at 10. Although he felt “overwhelmed, ” Defendant attributed these feelings to his incarceration and the criminal charges. Id. at 7.
(6) Defendant got along well with staff and his peers at FMC Devens. Id. at 8. He was prescribed antidepressants (id.), but his compliance with taking them was poor (id. at 9).
(7) The WASI-II was administered to determine Defendant's IQ. Id. at 9. His score of 69 fell within the extremely low range. Id. But this score is “not a valid representation of his intellectual abilities” ...

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