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Name: Maxwell v. Roe
Case #: 08-55534
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 05/20/2010

Where evidence raises a "bona fide doubt" regarding the defendant’s mental competency, the judge must sua sponte conduct a competency hearing. (Pate v. Robinson (1966) 383 U.S. 375.) When defendant was being prosecuted for murder, a Penal Code section 1368 hearing was conducted. After four of five experts opined defendant was feigning psychosis, the proceedings were reinstated. At the trial held two years later, defendant exhibited strange and disruptive behavior. Defense counsel told the court defendant’s condition was worsening. Relying on the prior expert reports, the court decided defendant was malingering and refused to hold a competency hearing. Most of the trial was conducted in defendant’s absence because he was placed in an involuntary psychiatric hold after he attempted suicide. The state appellate courts rejected arguments that there was sufficient evidence to justify additional competency hearings, and habeas proceedings ensued. Defendant alleged he was incompetent to stand trial and that the trial court should have conducted a second competency hearing because it was presented with substantial evidence of his incompetence. Despite the deferential standard of review, the Ninth Circuit reversed. In addition to the defendant’s courtroom conduct, the judge was aware of his behavior outside of court, his mental-health history, the panoply of drugs being given to him, and his refusal to take them. The judge also knew that after defendant’s mid-trial suicide attempt, a 72-hour psychiatric hold was extended to a 14-day hold. All of this evidence would have raised a doubt of incompetence in a reasonable judge. Because 12 years have passed, a meaningful retrospective competency hearing is impossible. Therefore, the only available remedy is a new trial.