United States v. Garza

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: 05-20-2014
  • Case #: 12-10294
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Tallman for the Court; Circuit Judge Ikuta and District Judge O’Connell
  • Full Text Opinion

A district court does not commit plain error in not sua sponte convening a hearing on the defendant’s competency where the medical history of a defendant is not strong and there is not a clear connection between the defendant’s ostensible dementia and any negative effect on his capability of understanding the proceedings or in aiding counsel in his defense.

After confessing to authorities during a search of his home that turned up a compact disc and two computers containing thousands of videos and photographs of child pornography, Albert Garza was arrested, indicted, and subsequently convicted of one count of “receipt or distribution” and one count of “possession” of child pornography. Garza received a sentence of 20 years in prison. After his indictment, Garza’s first attorney hired a clinical psychologist to examine Garza’s competency. The clinical psychologist diagnosed Garza with dementia resulting from Garza’s uncontrolled diabetes, and deemed him incompetent to stand trial after several aptitude tests and a single interview. The parties then stipulated to placing Garza in the Attorney General’s custody for purposes of a competency evaluation to last several weeks. This evaluation resulted in a forensic psychologist disagreeing with the dementia diagnosis and concluding Garza was competent to be tried. After this evaluation, Garza’s attorney dropped the competency issue. Competency was not directly in issue again, although, at trial, Garza testified on his own behalf and his testimony implied incompetence. Also, the parties and the court discussed competency at the sentencing hearing within the context of sentence aggravation for Garza having committed perjury. On appeal, Garza argued that the district court committed plain error in failing to hold a competency hearing sua sponte. The Ninth Circuit, after discussing established case law at length, and generating general guidelines for a substantial evidence analysis, held that a district court does not commit plain error in not sua sponte convening a hearing on the defendant’s competency where the medical history of a defendant is not strong and there is not a clear connection between the defendant’s ostensible dementia and any negative effect on his capability of understanding the proceedings or in aiding counsel in his defense. AFFIRMED.

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