This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. ß 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C7-99-1885

 

State of Minnesota,
Respondent,

vs.

Charles Nki Paul,
Appellant.

 

Filed September 5, 2000

Reversed and remanded
Foley, Judge
*

 

Hennepin County District Court

File No. 97-70301

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 525 Park St., Suite 500, St. Paul, MN† 55103; and

 

Amy Klobuchar, Hennepin County Attorney, Mary M. Lynch, Assistant County Attorney, C-2000 Government Ctr., Minneapolis, MN 55487 (for respondent)

 

John M. Stuart, State Public Defender, 2829 University Ave. S.E., Ste. 600, Minneapolis, MN† 55414-3230; and

 

Paul C. Thissen, Special Assistant State Public Defender, Briggs & Morgan, 2400 IDS Center, 80 South Eighth St., Minneapolis, MN† 55402 (for appellant)

 

Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Foley, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D†† O P I N I O N

FOLEY, Judge

††††††††††† Appellant challenges an order denying his petition for postconviction relief.† He argues that the postconviction court erred when it did not address his assertion that the district court violated his procedural due-process rights by not ordering a competency evaluation during trial.† Appellant also asserts that the postconviction court erred by rejecting his claims that (1) he was incompetent at the time of trial, (2) his trial counsel was ineffective because of a failure to request a competency evaluation, and (3) his right to self-representation was violated at trial.† We reverse and remand.

FACTS

††††††††††† Appellant Charles Nki Paul was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct, and fifth-degree assault.† Paul began testifying during the second day of a four-day trial held in November 1997.† At approximately noon on the second day of his testimony, Paul stood up, raised his voice, and made confusing and vulgar statements.† He rebuffed the court and his counselís efforts to calm him.† The court removed the jury and recessed for lunch.† Paul returned from the lunch break without his tie and jacket and began talking to his counsel in a loud voice.† He ignored his counselís direction to lower his voice.† When a police officer was sworn in to testify, Paul stood up and said, "Bless you, officer, for coming here to help me in this America."† Paulís counsel requested a recess, and, as sheriffís deputies were attempting to remove Paul, he fell to the floor. Deputies escorted him back to jail for evaluation by a nurse.

The next morning, Paul returned to the courtroom, and his counsel, Cortlen Cloutier, informed the district court that Paul wished to proceed pro se.† When the court asked Paul about this request Paul stated that he had "forgiven him," talked about being a poor, single parent from West Africa, and described his sexual exploits in graphic detail.† The court continued questioning Paul, and after a few other nonsensical answers Paul stated that he wanted to represent himself because his counsel "misled [him] from the beginning."† The court rejected his request, stating it was "too late," and the trial continued with Cloutier serving as Paulís counsel.

††††††††††† Immediately before closing statements, Cloutier informed the court that when he tried to consult with Paul that morning about questions Paul might pose to a witness, Paul seemed "not to understand the nature of what I was asking him or the nature of his response." Cloutier further informed the district court that after both sides rested he tried again to communicate with Paul, asking him if there was anything he would like included in the final argument.† Paul then stated that Cloutier had to get him a green card.† When Cloutier explained that he could not do that, Paul insisted that the judge had to get him a green card. According to Cloutier, Paul seemed unable to understand at that time what was going on in the courtroom and was focused on things not relevant to the case.† The district court informed Cloutier that it would "consider that at the appropriate time" but wanted to complete final arguments and allow the jury to begin deliberating.† The court stated, "[W]e can address these issues further while these proceedings are ongoing,Ē and then resumed the trial.†††

††††††††††† There were no further disruptions during trial, and Paul was convicted of all charges. When he returned to jail after the verdict, he became combative, sat naked in his cell, and smeared feces on the wall.† He was transferred to Hennepin County Medical Center two days later and remained there approximately two weeks.† While there, he was diagnosed with a number of illnesses, including rhabdomyolysis, a disease of the skeletal muscles, hepatitis, and appendicitis.† A psychiatrist also diagnosed him as suffering from "delirium, etiology undetermined."†

††††††††††† After Paul was sent back to jail, the court appointed a psychologist to evaluate him as part of the presentence investigation.† The psychologist stated that Paulís psychotic symptoms were in remission when she visited him.† She also noted that he tried to present himself in "an unrealistically virtuous light."† In his presentence investigation report, the probation officer observed that although Paul informed him that he did not remember much of his courtroom behavior, the probation officer believed Paul was "less than honest."

††††††††††† Paulís counsel moved for a mistrial at sentencing, citing Paulís bizarre trial behavior, the juryís observation of this behavior, and Paulís inability to assist with his trial after his breakdown.† The court denied the motion and sentenced Paul to four yearsí imprisonment.

††††††††††† Paul appealed but later moved for dismissal of the appeal and remand to the district court for postconviction proceedings.† This court granted his motion.† Paul then petitioned the district court for postconviction relief, asserting (1) he was not competent to stand trial; (2) the district court erred by failing to suspend the trial and order a psychiatric examination of him; (3) he was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel because his counsel failed to move for a mistrial, request a medical examination, or investigate his incompetence during trial; (4) the district court violated his right to self-representation when the court denied his motion to proceed pro se; (5) the district court violated his right to a fair trial by admitting other crime evidence; and (6) the evidence was insufficient.† The district court granted Paul an evidentiary hearing on the competency issue.†††††††††††

††††††††††† During the postconviction hearing, Dr. Paul Reitman, a forensic psychologist hired on Paulís behalf, testified that he had reviewed Paulís records and the trial transcripts and conducted a psychological interview approximately one year after trial.† Reitman testified that he believed Paul (1) could not have understood the proceedings at his trial; (2) could not have effectively assisted with his defense; (3) could not have consulted with his attorney with a reasonable degree of understanding; and (4) did not have a "rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him at trial."† Reitman further testified that based on everything he reviewed, and considering his interview and psychological testing of Paul, he believed that Paul experienced a psychotic episode during trial and that Paul suffers from a bipolar disorder.† Although Reitman could not say "within reasonable psychological certainty" that Paul had a psychotic episode during trial, Reitman testified that he believed, with a reasonable degree of certainty, that Paul "likely was not competent" during trial.

††††††††††† Paulís trial counsel testified at the postconviction hearing that Paulís trial was "the most unusual trial that Iíve participated in in the 42 years that Iíve been practicing law." He explained some of Paulís unusual behavior and stated that after Paul began his bizarre behavior, "from that time on it was like he had left all of us."

††††††††††† The district court denied Paulís petition and concluded that (1) Paul failed to prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that he was incompetent to proceed at any point in the trial; (2) the court did not need to determine whether Paul became incompetent after trial; (3) Paul failed to prove by a fair preponderance of the evidence that his trial counsel was ineffective; and (4) Paulís request to discharge counsel and proceed pro se was untimely. The district court did not address the other issues raised in Paulís petition.† Paul appeals from this order.†††††

D E C I S I O N

††††††††††† Appellate review of postconviction proceedings is limited to determining whether the postconviction courtís findings are supported by sufficient evidence.† Perkins v. State, 559 N.W.2d 678, 685 (Minn. 1997).† The postconviction courtís decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent an abuse of discretion by the postconviction court.† Id.

††††††††††† The district court did not specifically address Paulís postconviction assertion that the district court erred by failing to evaluate his competency during trial.† Instead, the court concluded that Paul had failed to prove his incompetence by a fair preponderance of the evidence.†

††††††††††† The real issue here is not whether Paul was incompetent during his trial but is, instead, whether the record demonstrates sufficient doubt that Paul was competent to stand trial.† See State v. Bauer, 310 Minn. 103, 115, 245 N.W.2d 848, 855 (1976) (stating question on appeal was whether record disclosed sufficient doubt of defendantís competency).† This court may independently review the record on this issue.† See Scruggs v. State, 484 N.W.2d 21, 25 (Minn. 1992) (recognizing remand appropriate if appellate court cannot ascertain whether district court considered one of petitionerís claims, but if record is clear, and answers to questions raised on appeal are obvious from record, appellate court may independently review record even where postconviction court fails to make specific findings and conclusions on all issues raised).

†††† †††††† A defendantís due process right to a fair trial is violated if the district court does not "observe adequate procedures to protect the defendantís right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent."† State v. Camacho, 561 N.W.2d 160, 174 (Minn. 1997) (citations omitted).† The Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure provide:††

A defendant shall not be permitted to enter a plea or be tried or sentenced for any offense if the defendant:

††††††††††† (1) lacks sufficient ability to consult with a reasonable degree of rational understanding with defense counsel; or

††††††††††† (2) is mentally ill or mentally deficient so as to be incapable of understanding the proceedings or participating in the defense.

 

Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, subd. 1.† If the prosecutor, defense counsel, or court has reason to doubt a defendantís competency, either the prosecutor or defense counsel shall raise the issue by motion or the court shall raise it on its own initiative.† Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, subd. 2.† There are no fixed guidelines for determining whether there should be an inquiry into a defendantís competence to stand trial, but

evidence of a defendantís irrational behavior, his demeanor at trial, and any prior medical opinion on competence to stand trial are all relevant in determining whether further inquiry is required, * * * [and] even one of these factors standing alone may, in some circumstances, be sufficient.

 

Bauer, 310 Minn. at 116, 245 N.W.2d at 855 (quoting Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 180, 95 S. Ct. 896, 908 (1975)).†††

††††††††††† Before closing statements, Cloutier told the court that Paul seemingly did not understand questions Cloutier had asked him and did not understand the nature of the proceedings.† At sentencing, Cloutier requested a mistrial and cited Paulís bizarre behavior. Cloutier stated that Paul

was clearly unable to assist us in his own defense after, I think it was Wednesday * * * .† He disintegrated, self-destructed, and from that time on he was no help to us.† He certainly was of no help to himself.† The jury witnessed all of this, his bizarre behavior, the dress, the manner and demeanor, the--Iím inclined to agree with the diagnoses [of the presentence evaluator], Your Honor, that he had a brief psychiatric episode where he was not in control of himself.† He went through half of this trial not knowing what was happening, not able to assist in his own defense.

††††††† †††

††††††††††† Through Cloutierís statements, the district court was notified that Paul was unable to assist with his defense after his breakdown and that Paul was having difficulty understanding the nature of the proceedings.† See id. at 117-18, 245 N.W.2d at 856 (listing public defenderís belief that defendant was incompetent as support for suggestion that defendant was incompetent).† Further, the court itself indicated that Paulís physical and mental status should be evaluated after Paul fell in the courtroom.† During the recess after the fall, the court stated that Paul would be seen by a nurse in the jail and stated:

I think before we see him again, if he does come back, before we bring the jury in I want to get a read on his mental and physical state.†

 

A nurse may have examined Paul, but no competency examination was performed, and the trial resumed the following day.†

††††††††††† Both the district court and counsel had reason to doubt Paulís competency during the trial, and both the court and defense counsel expressed concern about Paulís mental state. If the court or counsel has reason to doubt a defendantís competency, the court or counsel "shall" raise the issue.† Minn. R. Crim. P. 20.01, subd. 2 (emphasis added).† Application of this rule is not discretionary.† Further, although Paulís bizarre behavior started in the middle of the trial, this fact did not preclude the court from ordering a mental examination. The supreme court has emphasized:††††††††

[T]hroughout the course of criminal proceedings a trial judge must be vigilant in ensuring that the defendant is competent to stand trial and that, when a sufficient doubt of the defendantís
competence arises, he must observe procedures adequate to ensure the defendantís competency.

Bauer,310 Minn. at 114, 245 N.W.2d at 854.†

††††††††††† On this record, the district court violated Paulís procedural due process rights by failing to order a competency evaluation during trial.† Therefore, the postconviction court abused its discretion by refusing to grant Paulís petition for postconviction relief on this issue.† Because of our conclusion on this issue, we need not address the other issues raised on appeal.† Paulís convictions are reversed.† We remand for a rule 20 competency evaluation and, if Paul is found competent, a new trial.

††††††††††† Reversed and remanded.

 



* Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, ß 10.