Deere v. Cullen

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Sentencing
  • Date Filed: 06-03-2013
  • Case #: 10-99013
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Judge Silverman for the Court; Circuit Judge Rawlinson; Judge W. Fletcher dissenting.
  • Full Text Opinion

In a penalty hearing, a prisoner is competent to plead guilty if, first, he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and second, has a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him; in appealing a trial court findings regarding competency to plead guilty, mental illness must be shown to substantially affect the prisoner's 'capacity to appreciate' her 'options and make a rational choice' by clear and convincing evidence.

In 1982, after Ronald Deere (“Deere”) pled guilty to three open counts of murder. Superior Court Judge Metheny sentenced him to death for the first degree murder of Don Davis, and to life imprisonment for the second degree murders of Davis’ daughters, ages 2 and 7. Deere repeatedly discussed his desire to be sentenced to die with his defense counsel Glenn Jones (“Jones”), and with two mental health experts on different occasions. Deere refused to present any mitigating evidence at the penalty hearing. California Supreme Court reversed, holding the death sentence could not imposed without presentation of mitigating evidence. In 1986, Judge Metheny appointed another attorney ‘friend of the court’ to present mitigating evidence, and again sentenced Deere to death. In 1993, Deere filed a habeas corpus petition claiming that Jones had rendered ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAS”), that the self-destructive nature of Deere’s mental illness prevented him from assisting in his defense, and that Judge Metheny was incompetent. Deere presented affidavits from three different attorneys who described instances of Judge Metheny’s disconcerting behavior in other trials. On appeal in 2003, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded that decision for further proceedings, finding that there was “real and substantial doubt” as to Deere’s competency to plead guilty and ordered the lower court to reconsider the petition “as to the claims premised on that contention.” The district court held that Deere had been prejudiced by ineffective assistance of counsel. The State appealed that decision. The Ninth Circuit reviewing the case de novo, held first, that there was no ‘reasonable probability’ that Deere would have been found incompetent to plead guilty and that Deere had failed to rebut the state court’s findings by clear and convincing evidence. Second, the panel held that Deere did not present sufficient evidence to warrant a hearing on Judge Metheny’s competency. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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