Articles Tagged with mental health evaluations

In Newman v. Harrington, No. 12-3725 (7th Cir. 8/9/13), the Court affirmed a district court ruling on a habeas petition which found that the failure of defense counsel to investigate known deficiencies concerning his client’s mental capacity, and to raise the issue of defendant’s fitness to stand trial with the State trial court, constituted ineffective assistance.

Newman, a homicide defendant, was 16 when he shot and killed the victim.  Newman’s mother hired an attorney to defend her son and, at their first meeting, provided counsel with extensive material documenting her son’s long history of mental and cognitive deficits.  Further, Newman responded to the trial judge’s questions concerning his right to testify at trial with simple “yes” or “no” answers.  During this colloquy, Newman failed to display any meaningful understanding of the proceedings.  Thus, both defense counsel and the trial judge had reasons to question Newman’s fitness for trial, but there was no pre-trial fitness hearing.  Newman went to trial, was convicted, and received a custodial term of 47 years that was affirmed on appeal.

The following year, Newman sought State-court post-conviction relief.  His petition was supported by, among other things, an evaluation by a clinical psychologist which stated that Newman had cognitive deficits, was mildly to moderately retarded, was never fit to stand trial, and that his many mental health issues were obvious to anyone who attempted to speak with him.  Further, his IQ was 54, and his intellectual abilities were in the “extremely low” range.  His reading and math skills ranged from those of a child of 4 to one of 7.  Newman could not tell time, could not deal with abstract concepts, and had a poor memory.  Continue reading ›

The United States Supreme Court recently decided Kansas v. Cheever, 571 U.S. _____ (12/11/13), which discusses whether the Fifth Amendment prohibits the Government from introducing evidence from a criminal defendant’s court-ordered mental health evaluation to rebut the defendant’s presentation of expert testimony supporting a voluntary intoxication defense.

The defendant was charged initially in the Kansas state courts with capital murder.  In an unrelated case, the Kansas Supreme Court invalidated the State’s death penalty scheme.  The State then dismissed its charges and allowed federal authorities to prosecute the defendant under the Federal Death Penalty Act.  In the federal case, defendant sought to introduce evidence of his intoxication by methamphetamine at the time of the offense, asserting that this negated his ability to form the intent requisite to the offense.  The District Court ordered Defendant to submit to a psychiatric evaluation to assess this issue, and a psychiatrist interviewed Defendant for approximately five to six hours.

The federal case went to trial, but was subsequently suspended and dismissed without prejudice.  The U.S. Supreme Court also reversed the Kansas Supreme Court’s decision, finding that the State’s death penalty statute was constitutional.  Kansas then commenced a second prosecution against Defendant who, in turn, presented a voluntary intoxication defense supported by testimony by a professor of psychiatric pharmacy.  The State then sought to rebut this with testimony from the psychiatrist who previously interviewed Defendant in connection with the aborted federal prosecution.  This testimony apparently included statements Defendant made during the Court-ordered evaluation.  Defense counsel objected, arguing that such testimony would violate Defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights since Defendant had not voluntarily agreed to that examination.  The trial court agreed with the State, but the Kansas Supreme Court reversed.

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