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Eight Ninth Circuit Judges Blast Reinhardt RulingBut the dissenting judges lacked the votes to reinstate the conviction he tossed last year after saying the judge should have held a competency hearing.
2013-01-07 05:43:08 PM
SACRAMENTO A split U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Monday upheld a panel's order giving a drug dealer with dementia a new sentencing hearing, denying a request to rehear the matter en banc despite the pleas of eight judges on the court.
Writing for the three-judge panel's majority last year, Judge Stephen Reinhardt said Riverside County psychiatrist Joel Stanley Dreyer was improperly sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2010 because the district court judge failed to order a competency hearing.
"Dreyer's condition, as described in detail by three expert reports ... prevented him from expressing himself appropriately or in a manner that could assist in his defense," Reinhardt wrote. "Given the expert opinions that supported defense counsel's representation that Dreyer was unable to assist in his defense due to his medical condition, the record creates a genuine doubt as to Dreyer's competency even in the absence of observable courtroom antics."
A request for an en banc hearing failed to garner the necessary support from a majority of nonrecused, active judges.
In a dissent Monday from the en banc denial, eight judges wrote that allowing the panel's decision to stand creates "a hash of the plain error standard" that "will wreak havoc on sentencing proceedings."
"The Dreyer opinion affords no deference to district courts, which are uniquely qualified to evaluate competency at sentencing, and will only result in unnecessary and expensive evaluations, hearings, resentencings and remands when evidence of legal incompetence is limited or absent," Judge Richard Tallman wrote.
Dreyer pleaded guilty in 2009 to conspiring to distribute thousands of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills. At Dreyer's 2010 sentencing, the judge received three expert reports that concluded the defendant, then 73 years old, suffered from frontotemporal dementia. The condition caused, among other things, memory impairment, loss of tact and social propriety and word-finding ability.
Dreyer did not speak for himself at sentencing. His attorney told the court he told his client not to "because one of the characteristics of the disease is that I don't know what he is going to say." The attorney asked the court for mercy during sentencing, but not for a competency hearing.
"Given the consistency between counsel's statements and the supporting expert reports, the district court had substantial evidence before it that should have created reasonable doubt in its mind as to Dreyer's ability to assist in his own defense, and thus to his competency," Reinhardt wrote.
The eight judges seeking a rehearing said the panel was incorrectly substituting its reasoning for that of the district court.
"The district judge reviewed the expert reports evaluating Dreyer's mental health, considered Dreyer's medical condition in calculating an appropriate sentence, and personally observed Dreyer's behavior in court," Tallman wrote. "In finding plain error, the majority disregarded the district court's assessment of a fact-intensive competency inquiry."
The case is United States v. Dreyer, 10-50631.