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United States v. Jones

July 14, 2003


On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Crim. No. 00-cr-00432) District Judge: Honorable John R. Padova

Before: Becker, Chief Judge,*fn1 Roth and Smith, Circuit Judges

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Smith, Circuit Judge


Argued December 9, 2002


After pleading guilty to charges of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and witness tampering, defendant Donald Jones was sentenced to 130 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and a $700 fine. Jones now appeals, arguing that the District Court erred: (1) by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea, and, later, (2) in failing to hold a competency hearing before sentencing Jones. We will affirm the District Court's denial of Jones's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. However, we will vacate the sentencing order for the District Court's failure to hold a competency hearing and remand to the District Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Facts and Procedural History

On February 8, 2000, defendant Jones's girlfriend, Rhonda Turner, placed a 911 call to the Philadelphia police. She reported to the police that on the evening of February 7, Jones had returned home brandishing a weapon and demanding the use of her car. Jones purportedly sought to use the car to pursue some rival drug dealers who had robbed dealers then working for him. According to the police investigation report, the following day, February 9th, officers entered Jones's house pursuant to a warrant and found him in bed. The police report states that "the defendant was asked if he had any weapons and Jones said YES and when [police officer] Bins asked where the weapon was JONES moved the pillow and under the pollow [sic] was the gun." Philadelphia Police Dept. Investigation Report dated Feb. 9, 2000 (emphasis in original). The gun was a loaded nine millimeter Luger with an obliterated serial number.

Following his arrest and detention, Jones wrote a number of letters to Ms. Turner from jail, threatening harm to her if she refused to alter her testimony. The letters contained statements that Jones "knows where [Ms. Turner's] people live," and that "this is not the first time [Turner had] crossed [Jones]." He also warned that "I just hope I don't have to send my boys to do anything I don't want to but might have to."

On October 13, 2000 and December 4, 2000, Jones and his attorney, Rossman Thompson (hereinafter "prior counsel"), met with attorneys for the Government at Jones's request to determine whether Jones could provide any helpful information in exchange for a downward departure under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Two Assistant United States Attorneys, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and representatives from the Philadelphia Police Department Narcotics Division attended the proffer meetings. Jones was unable to provide information that the Government found helpful, and the parties failed to reach a plea agreement.

Jones pleaded guilty on December 4, 2000 to one count of unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g), and one count of witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1). On March 5, 2001, the day his sentencing was scheduled to take place, Jones became upset and struck his prior counsel. He then requested the appointment of new counsel and sought to file a motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The District Court appointed new counsel, Richard Freeman (hereinafter "current counsel"), and granted Jones additional time to file his motion. On May 31, 2001, after a hearing on Jones's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, the District Court denied that motion, and later denied his pro se "appeal" of that ruling on June 21, 2001.*fn2

On August 28, 2001, during a hearing regarding other pro se motions that Jones had filed, the Government notified the District Court that it had received a letter from the Federal Bureau of Prisons stating that Jones had been prescribed psychiatric medication while in prison. In light of this development, the Government requested that the Court hold a "brief " competency hearing prior to sentencing. The Court agreed to do so.*fn3 The District Court then questioned Jones about his medication. Jones stated that while doctors had prescribed Prozac, Dilantin, and "a few other psychiatric medications" for him, he had not been taking his medication for about two weeks because he had been working on his case. The Court also asked Jones whether he had undergone a medical examination while in the prison community, and Jones responded that he was seeing a psychiatrist. The Court then concluded that it would be useful to have a report from the psychiatrist prior to the sentencing.

Two days after the hearing, on August 30, 2001, Bureau of Prisons psychologist Ira Kedson prepared a "Psychological Report" which indicated that Jones had been receiving psychiatric treatment at the Federal Detention Center since October 12, 2000, and that his current diagnoses were "Schizoaffective Disorder, Depressed Type and Polysubstance Abuse."*fn4 According to the report, a Bureau of Prisons physician had prescribed the antidepressant Prozac at Jones's initial psychiatric appointment to control Jones's depressed feelings. In February 2001, Jones had been prescribed the antipsychotic medication Risperdal to address his reported "visions" of his deceased mother. Jones also received the anticonvulsant Dilantin for his history of seizures. According to Kedson, "Mr. Jones'[s] compliance with [his] medication has fluctuated during the time it has been prescribed for him."*fn5 Kedson's report stated that while the Bureau had not performed a competency evaluation of Mr. Jones, "the medication should facilitate his ability to participate in his trial, since certain distracting and preoccupying symptoms (e.g. anxiety, depressed feelings, hallucinations) should be reduced or even minimized by the medication's effects." Federal Bureau of Prisons Psychological Report dated Aug. 30, 2001. The information in Kedson's report led the Government to request, by letter dated September 6, 2001, that the Court order a competency evaluation of Jones prior to sentencing. Pursuant to this request, the District Court ordered such an evaluation.

Dr. Jeffrey Summerton, Ph.D., performed Jones's psychological examination. Dr. Summerton's report documented that "the purpose of the evaluation was 'regarding competency and (the nature of Mr. Jones'[s]) understanding... of Court procedure.' " Psychological Evaluation of Jeffrey Summerton, Ph.D. dated Oct. 9, 2001, at 6 (hereinafter "Summerton Report"). The general principles for competency set forth in Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) served as a guide for Dr. Summerton's report.*fn6 Thus, Dr. Summerton

focused upon such factors as a defendant's general knowledge and understanding of court procedure, specific knowledge and understanding of his particular legal circumstances, his ability to cooperate with counsel and participate in his defense, and his ability to tolerate stress and refrain from irrational and unmanageable behavior during trial.

Summerton Report, at 7.

In evaluating Jones's competency, Dr. Summerton employed a standard interview format that measures three adjudicative competence-related abilities: understanding, reasoning, and appreciation. Dr. Summerton opined that Jones "generally appeared to meet a number of the abovelisted criteria [for competence]," such as "general knowledge and understanding of court procedure, and specific knowledge and understanding of his particular legal circumstances." Id. at 7. However, Dr. Summerton felt that Jones exhibited "mild impairment" in the "understanding" category.

With respect to Jones's "appreciation" score, Dr. Summerton noted that the questions were specifically "concerned with the subject's capacity to appreciate his or her own legal situation and circumstances." Furthermore, they were "structured to identify any unrealistic or idiosyncratic beliefs which are implausible and may reflect symptoms of mental illness." Nonetheless, while Dr. Summerton noted a number of factors apart from mental illness that might have accounted for a low "appreciation" score, id. ...

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