On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, Indictment No. 08-12-2223.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Parrillo and Skillman.
Following a hearing in which he was found competent to stand trial, defendant Trevor Walker pled guilty to two separate robberies occurring within thirty days of each other, the later one being of the first-degree, N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1. Defendant reserved the right to challenge the competency determination. He was sentenced to an aggregate twelve-year term subject to the eighty-five percent parole disqualifier of the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2. Defendant appeals, arguing that the State did not meet its burden of proving his competency and that his sentence is excessive. We affirm.
According to the State's expert, Dr. Peter Paul, an in- house psychologist at the Ann Klein Forensic Center who testified at the November 19, 2009 competency hearing, defendant immediately began self-reporting classic malingering symptoms at the outset of the evaluation, which led the expert to conclude defendant was feigning mental illness:
Then he was volunteering psychiatric symptoms starting with at the beginning of the interview. And in my experience with psychiatric patients, they tend not to do that. Usually[,] when you're interviewing someone and they're pushing their symptoms forward, there's an ulterior motive.
The defendant reported experiencing excessive number of impairments altogether, including psychiatric symptoms, inability to understand legal definitions, and poor orientation to time.
People who are malingering tend to throw out a lot of difference symptoms thinking its going to make a stronger case, whereas individuals who are suffering from mental illness usually will not present such a variety to you.
The defendant reported experiencing visual hallucinations, particularly seeing people distinctly. And that symptom is very rarely reported in a genuine psychiatric population, unless there's clear evidence of neurological [impairment] or recent substance abuse. However, it's frequently reported among people who are feigning mental illness in correctional settings.
The defendant said he began experiencing visual hallucinations when he was 14 years old. And this is earlier than someone who would typically report experiencing hallucinations, usually auditory. And that's common among people who are feigning illness, they report that they have an earlier onset with the belief that it makes a stronger case for their impairment.
Dr. Paul based his finding of competency on his in-person evaluation of defendant and review of defendant's criminal history. Significantly, defendant had prior involvement with the criminal justice system without any competency issue ever being raised. Moreover, defendant had never been hospitalized or prescribed medication for any of his self-described symptoms.
To the contrary, Dr. Paul found defendant's responses at the evaluation to be coherent, relevant and focused. According to Dr. Paul, defendant exhibited the mental capacity to appreciate his presence in relation to time, place and things. He understood that he was charged with two robberies and the terms of the State's plea offer. Defendant also referred to the judge as a referee and knew that if he went to trial he would testify by telling the truth.
An opposing opinion was offered by the defense expert, Dr. Paul Fulford, who concluded that defendant suffered from mental retardation and was unable to participate in his own defense. Dr. Fulford based his finding of incompetency on the results of a number of tests administered to defendant, including a Wide Range Achievement Test, showing defendant to be functioning intellectually on a third or fourth grade level; a Bender- Gestalt Test, demonstrating defendant's poor visual memory; and an IQ test, placing defendant in the mildly retarded range. At the conclusion of the evidence, the ...