« New plea deal in place for child porn defendant after federal judge rejected prior deal with appeal waiver | Main | "Meaningless Opportunities: Graham v. Florida’s 'Meaningful Opportunity for Release' for Juvenile Offenders and the Reality of De Facto LWOP Sentences" »

August 21, 2012

Split Ninth Circuit faults district judge for failing to ensure defendant was competent at sentencing

Today the Ninth Circuit handed down an interesting split panel decision on an interesting sentencing issue in US v. Dreyer, No. 10-50631 (9th Cir. Aug. 21, 2012) (available here). Here is how the majority opinion (per Judge Reinhardt) starts:

At the age of 63, Joel Dreyer experienced the onset of frontotemporal dementia, a degenerative brain disorder that causes changes in personality and behavior, impairs social interactions, and causes disinhibition and a loss of insight and impulse control. He was a practicing psychiatrist at the time. From the age of 66 to 69, despite having no criminal history, Dreyer participated in a conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and in December 2010, at the age of 73, he was sentenced to ten years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to charges related to that conspiracy.

At the sentencing hearing, the district court was provided with three expert reports: all three diagnosed Dreyer with frontotemporal dementia and noted that he exhibited textbook manifestations of the condition since its apparent onset in 2001, three years before his participation in the controlled substance conspiracy, and that his symptoms persisted into the present. Dreyer did not allocute at sentencing and defense counsel informed the court that his client would not address it due to the dementia’s effect on his behavior. Defense counsel did not move for a competency hearing and the district court did not order a hearing sua sponte. The court sentenced Dreyer to 120 months. Dreyer appeals his sentence, contending that the district court erred by failing sua sponte to order an evidentiary hearing to determine his competency at the time of sentencing.

We hold that the record before the district court at sentencing was sufficient to cause a genuine doubt as to the defendant’s competence and that the court committed plain error by failing to order a hearing sua sponte. Accordingly, we vacate Dreyer’s sentence and remand for the district court to evaluate Dreyer’s competency on the basis of an evidentiary hearing. In light of the additional circumstances of this case, we also direct that all further proceedings be assigned to a new judge on remand.

Here is how the lengthy dissent (per Judge Callahan) gets started:

I respectfully dissent. I cannot agree that it was plain error for the district court not to sua sponte order a competency hearing after Joel Dreyer pleaded guilty and received the benefit of his plea agreement but before sentencing. Dreyer was represented by competent counsel and had been examined by a number of doctors. Although all agreed that he suffered from frontotemporal dementia (“FTD”), none opined that Dreyer was not competent to participate in his sentencing. Moreover, although Dreyer chose not to allocute, he was responsive when the district judge addressed him personally, stating that he respected the judge and appreciated her comments. Even if the trial judge might have issued a sua sponte order for further psychiatric and medical evaluations, failure to do so was not plain error. Moreover, the majority’s unrequested reassignment of the case on remand to another judge is contrary to our norm of remanding to the original sentencing judge and is unsupported in fact or law.

August 21, 2012 at 05:26 PM | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d83451574769e20176175cec18970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Split Ninth Circuit faults district judge for failing to ensure defendant was competent at sentencing:

Comments

About 0 chance this decision stands. It's Reinhardt.

Posted by: John | Aug 21, 2012 6:41:56 PM

hmm

"Dreyer was represented by competent counsel and had been examined by a number of doctors. Although all agreed that he suffered from frontotemporal dementia (“FTD”),"

Here's a thoght you fucktard dissenter!

Maybe the doctor's thought that after a number of diff doctors have examined somoene and all state for the record the individual has basically "lost his fucking mind" they shouldn't have to then whisper in the fucktard judges ear "guess what...that means he's NOT COMPETENT" to stand trial.

That's the damn judges job to KNOW THAT!


no offence to the fucktard who descented. This is right up there with telling a 50 year old pervert that a 10 year is NOT allowed to say yes! no matter how much they wnat too!


Someone you have plainly been told over and over and over is NOT in his/her right mind has NO ability to consent to shit LET ALONE A PLEA AGREEMENT!

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 22, 2012 1:41:34 AM

I had no idea about that Joel Dreyer with frontotemporal dementia and degenerative brain disorder is so bad, a neurological disorder is any disorder of the body's nervous system. Structural, biochemical or electrical abnormalities in the brain, spinal cord or other nerves can result in a range of symptoms. Examples of symptoms include paralysis, muscle weakness, poor coordination, loss of sensation, seizures, confusion, pain and altered levels of consciousness. There are many recognized neurological disorders, some relatively common, but many rare. They may be assessed by neurological examination, and studied and treated within the specialities of neurology and clinical neuropsychology, in short this is a very delicate situation.

Best regards,
Willian

Posted by: Priligy Online | Aug 22, 2012 11:43:30 AM

Thanks for share this news with us, this situation is so bad, I hope the best for Joel Dreyer

Regards,
Ericka

Posted by: Female Viagra | Aug 22, 2012 11:46:45 AM

It appears to me from reading the Ninth Circuit's opinion and newspaper articles on the case that defense counsel and, ultimately, the District Judge, dropped the legal ball in Dr. Joel Dreyer's case. I have also discussed this case with a friend who is a neuro-psychiatrist. He tells me that fronto-temporal dementia is on his list of the 10 worst neurological diseases that he hopes he personally never gets. While the appellate opinion only purports to address the sentencing aspects, the information in the opinion also calls into question whether this doctor is guilty of any crime at all, or whether he doesn't satisfy the affirmative defense of "not guilty by reason of insanity". Here is a highly educated man, a psychiatrist himself, who got thru 68 years of life without committing any significant crime, and then he goes over the edge and starts selling huge quantities of narcotics without a medical necessity. The fact that he was diagnosed with this progressive and degenerative neurological disease 5 years before committing his crimes explains them fully. Candidly, I hope that upon remand defense counsel moves to withdraw his guilty plea and assert his insanity. This man has an estimated remaining life expectancy of 3.5 years, and should only serve time in a psychiatric hospital, not in a prison. One must also wonder what the prosecutors are thinking here, since the Government's own expert witness agrees with the diagnosis, prognosis and causation for the crimes.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Aug 23, 2012 4:49:17 PM

i agree jim!

of course that brings us right back to this!

"Maybe the doctor's thought that after a number of diff doctors have examined somoene and all state for the record the individual has basically "lost his fucking mind" they shouldn't have to then whisper in the fucktard judges ear "guess what...that means he's NOT COMPETENT" to stand trial."

Posted by: rodsmith | Aug 23, 2012 8:23:21 PM

I am an attorney. I cannot believe that the trial judge, who was so busy trying to prove she was smarter than Dr. Dreyer, could rule so poorly. Once she had three medical reports in front of her diagnosing his condition, clearly explains why this doctor so drastically changed his behavior in old age. He was out of his mind Judge.

Posted by: Aaron | Aug 24, 2012 2:08:59 PM

Jim, you state about Joel Dreyer that he "got thru 68 years of life without committing any significant crime," let me tell you that I knew Joel from his Michigan days and he is indeed a criminal, and always has been, he just never got caught (although he was under investigation on a number of fronts). He was always thinking about how he could take advantage of the system, was always looking for ways to bilk the system, etc. He didn't care about others, he just cared about himself and who he could take advantage of. He would order tests on his patients that they did not need, just so he could collect the insurance money. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Michigan was investigating him. I was an insider and he admitted as much and would laugh about it. He is a con man, a sociopath, always has been and always will be. There is no defense of his actions. Anyone who knew Joel Dreyer would and does say the same thing about him.

Posted by: KDM | Feb 20, 2014 10:48:33 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB