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United States v. Patterson

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Paducah

October 19, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Plaintiff
v.
STEPHEN M. PATTERSON Defendant

          OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS B. RUSSELL, SENIOR JUDGE

         In May of 2017, Defendant, Stephen M. Patterson Jr., was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. (R. 1). In august of 2017, Patterson moved this Court for a competency hearing pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241, 4242 and 4247. The Court granted the motion and ordered a psychologic evaluation of Patterson be conducted prior to the hearing. (R. 17). The psychological evaluation was performed at Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago by Dr. Schenk, a forensic psychologist. (R. 25). Based on her evaluation, Dr. Schenk prepared a report, which was filed with the Court in February of 2018. In her report Dr. Schenk determined Patterson competent to stand trial. Paterson's competency hearing was then conducted on October 4, 2018. Dr. Schenk testified at the hearing both before and after Patterson gave testimony. Her opinion remained consistent-Patterson may hold unorthodox beliefs, but he is nevertheless competent to stand trial. As explained more thoroughly herein, based on Dr. Schenk's report, and the October 4th competency hearing, the Court agrees with Dr. Schenk. Patterson is competent to stand trial.

         Legal Standard

         Under 18 U.S.C. § 4241 “the district court has not only the prerogative, but the duty, to inquire into a defendant's competency whenever there is ‘reasonable cause to believe' that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial.” United States v. White, 887 F.2d 705, 709 (6th Cir. 1989). “[T]he bar for incompetency is high: a criminal defendant must lack either a ‘sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' or ‘a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'” United States v. Miller, 531 F.3d 340, 350 (6th Cir. 2008) (quoting Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 172, 95 S.Ct. 896, 43 L.Ed.2d 103 (1975)); 18 U.S.C.S. § 4241(d). The Court's determination must be based on a preponderance of the evidence. 18 U.S.C.S. § 4241(d). In making its determination the Court should consider the defendant's demeanor, any prior medical opinion regarding competency, and any evidence of irrational behavior. Drope, 420 U.S. at 180.

         Discussion

         To be mentally competent to stand trial, Patterson must possess two things. First, Patterson must possess the ability to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him. 18 U.S.C.S. § 4241(d). Second, Patterson must possess the ability to assist properly in his defense. 18 U.S.C.S. § 4241(d). He Possesses both.

         A. Patterson has the Ability to Understand the Nature and Consequences of the Proceedings Against Him.

         The evidence presented by Dr. Schenk, as well as Patterson's testimony and demeanor convince the Court that Patterson understands the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him. Dr. Schenk is highly qualified. She attended the University of Wisconsin, where she majored in psychology and minored in criminal justice. She then went on to West Virginia University, where she received her doctorate in clinical psychology with a focus in forensic psychology. Dr. Schenk then pursued a post-doctoral fellowship specializing in forensic psychology with Georgia Regents University and East Central Regional Hospital in Augusta. Finally, in 2015, she became employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons as a licensed psychologist.

         In writing her psychological report for the Court, Dr. Schenk reviewed all the records concerning Patterson's case, but most importantly, Dr. Schenk conducted a variety of in-person interviews with Patterson over the span of roughly two months. Based on her firsthand interaction with Patterson, Dr. Schenk testified that Patterson may have some sincerely held unusual beliefs. For example, Patterson told Dr. Schenk that he was a “vice generate.” When asked to define the term, Patterson told Dr. Schenk that it was “an overseer.” Patterson also expressed to Dr. Schenk that he thought his name belonged to the United States Government because his mother signed his birth certificate. Patterson at one point even told Dr. Schenk that he heard voices.

         But ultimately, Dr. Schenk concluded in her report and testified-before and after Patterson's testimony-that while these beliefs and behaviors are unorthodox, they are not indicative of mental illness or defect which would preclude Patterson from understanding the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him. Instead, from her interaction with Patterson, Dr. Schenk concluded Patterson to be capable of rational understanding, the ability to weigh pros and cons against one another, and a general understanding of how the justice system works. From these determinations, Dr. Schenk testified that it is her professional opinion that Patterson understands the nature and proceedings against him. The Court finds Dr. Schenk's professional opinion to be persuasive. Furthermore, based on Patterson's testimony and demeanor at his competency hearing, the Court shares in Dr. Schenk's opinion.

         From Patterson's testimony, the Court finds it undeniable that Patterson sincerely holds some very unorthodox beliefs. Without detailing every single one, the Court notes some of the more prominently unusual. Patterson testified that he was, indeed, a “vice generate.” When asked to define the term, Patterson testified that is was “an overseer.” Patterson testified that he heard voices that urged him to do various things such as, better himself, be still, or be aware. Patterson testified that he thought his birthday was the day he was conceived. He also testified that he owned the corporate rights associated with the name Stephen Patterson. Patterson's testimony regarding these unusual ideas and beliefs struck the Court as sincere. Patterson's testimony was not the only indication of his unusual character.

         Patterson's behavior is also unusual. Patterson has jumped from a moving car-which he was driving. The car nearly went through a house. Patterson chose to be held in solitary confinement for nearly six months rather than sign his own name on booking documents. But most unusual, Patterson bit the canine unit during his most recent arrest.

         But while the Court notes Patterson's unorthodox beliefs and unusual past behavior, these strange beliefs and behaviors do not necessarily demonstrate that Patterson does not understand the proceedings against him. United States v. Gooch 595 Fed.Appx. 524, 527 (6th Cir. 2014) (“[M]erely believing in fringe views does not mean someone cannot cooperate with his lawyer or understand the judicial proceedings around him.”). While Patterson told Dr. Schenk he is considering “sovereign citizenship”, the unusual beliefs espoused by Patterson are not a consequence of such consideration. Nonetheless, the reasoning used by other courts in declaring sovereign citizens mentally competent applies here. Courts have held time and time again when dealing with so called sovereign citizens, that unorthodox beliefs-as unusual as they might be- do not indicate mental incompetency in the absence of mental illness or involuntary behavior. See United States v. Coleman, 871 F.3d 470 (6th Cir. 2017); United States v. Neal, 776 Fed.Appx. 398, (6th Cir. 2016). Like sovereign citizens, Patterson holds very unusual beliefs. But the Court does not find those beliefs-unusual though they are-to interfere with Patterson's ability to understand the proceedings against him.

         Indeed, the Court finds from Patterson's testimony that he is articulate, rational, and fully capable of understanding the proceedings against him. First, Patterson seemed to understand the gravity of waiving the attorney client privilege. So much so, that he declined to do so. Further, Patterson followed up by inquiring about what questions were going to be asked of him, implying that he ...


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