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State of New Jersey v. Derrick Harmon

February 7, 2011

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
DERRICK HARMON, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Indictment Nos. 99-09-2872, 99-09-2876 and 99-09-2879.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 11, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo and Yannotti.

Defendant Derrick Harmon appeals from a Law Division order denying his application for post-conviction relief (PCR). We affirm.

Defendant was charged in three Essex County indictments with eight armed robberies, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1, and numerous lesser related offenses. Defendant also was indicted in Union County for nine armed robberies and numerous lesser related offenses. Commencing November 13, 2000, a series of six competency hearings were conducted, which eventually resulted in a determination on February 12, 2002 that defendant was competent to stand trial.

By way of background, defendant was first evaluated on February 9, 2000, by Dr. Peter D. Paul, who concluded that, although defendant exhibited some paranoid thinking, he was oriented as to person, place and time with his memory functions intact, including the events leading to his arrest and charges. Dr. Paul deemed defendant competent to stand trial, but recommended that defendant's psychotropic medications be continued so that he would maintain competence. Dr. Paul further opined it likely that defendant would remain competent as long as he continued with his medications.

Defendant was next evaluated on January 16, 2001 by Benito Marty, M.D., who concluded that defendant suffers from a Psychotic Disorder, not otherwise specified (NOS), compounded by a history of polysubstance dependence, but that he was competent to stand trial as long as he took his prescribed medications.*fn1

Dr. Marty also concluded that defendant was sane at the time of the offense and at the time his confession was taken.

[I]n order to reconstruct the mental status of Mr. Derrick Harmon at the time of the offense, on April 26, 1999, I reviewed the discovery material provided and pertaining to his current charges. Mr. Harmon admitted to extensive substance abuse as a problem and that his current charges were apparently the result [of trying] to secure money to buy drugs at that time. In his statement given on May 27, 1999, the patient was completely aware of the incident and his statement was consistent with the statements given by the other witnesses. He was aware that this was the result of his drug problem, but he apologized to the victim finally about what he had done. It is my professional opinion, based on reasonable medical certainty, that Mr. Harmon was sane at the time of the offense on April 26, 1999 and at the time of the taking of the confession on May 27, 1999.

At a later competency proceeding on July 10, 2001, defendant refused to leave his jail cell and medical personnel at the jail reported that defendant was refusing to take his medication and that it was not the jail's policy to force him to do so. Defendant also signed a refusal of treatment form at the jail. In a signed, handwritten note to the court, dated March 23, 2001, defendant complained of the side effects from the medications. Defense counsel indicated that defendant refused to communicate with him and refused to be interviewed by the psychiatrist he had retained, Dr. Maureen Santina. Noting that defendant's prior competency report was six months old and Dr. Marty's opinion that defendant was competent to stand trial while medicated, the court stated:

[T]he Court finds that the defendant is competent to stand trial while medicated, however, if it appears that he has become incompetent or there is a question as to whether he is presently competent, due to his own accord and volition to voluntarily stop taking his prescribed medication, and thus he has waived his right to proceed as competent, and it further finds that defendant refused to see a psychiatric expert, retained by defense counsel, and the above refusal to cooperate with treatment and evaluation is not due to a mental disease or defect[.]

Pursuant to the court's July 23, 2001 order directing further examination, Dr. Marty again evaluated defendant for competency. Dr. Marty confirmed his prior diagnosis of a Psychotic Disorder, NOS, compounded by a history of polysubstance dependence. Dr. Marty deemed defendant competent to stand trial at that time, but noted that defendant will quickly decompensate and regress if off medication. Dr. Marty also noted that defendant "has the tendency to fake or exaggerate psychiatric symptoms based on psychological evaluation."

The final competency hearing occurred on February 12, 2002. The defense expert, Dr. Maureen Santina, had examined defendant a few weeks prior and her overall conclusion mirrored that of Dr. Marty. After the court questioned defendant to determine whether he understood the nature of the charges against him and the respective roles of the attorneys and jury, the court found defendant competent to stand trial. The court informed defendant that, under New Jersey law, if ...


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