The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.
AUBREY E. ROBINSON, JR., CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
This matter comes before the Court on defendant's appeal
of an order of the Magistrate committing her for an evaluation of her mental competency pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241(b), 4247(b). Defendant had moved to dismiss below on the ground that the complaint against her fails to state the necessary elements of the offense she is alleged to have violated, 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B) (threatening a United States official). The Magistrate denied the motion, finding that "such issues are appropriately addressed in the context of a preliminary hearing which will be scheduled as soon as it has been determined that defendant is competent." Magistrate's Order, filed May 23, 1990, at 2.
Defendant strenuously contends before this Court that any determination of her competency to stand trial remains independent of the preliminary examination required under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. She argues therefore that she is entitled to a probable cause determination prior to temporary commitment under 18 U.S.C. § 4247(b) to facilitate a competency evaluation. The Court agrees, and remands for a determination whether the government's evidence is adequate to hold defendant over for trial on the charge alleged in the complaint.
There is a dearth of authority exploring the interplay between the federal statute governing mental competency determinations, 18 U.S.C. § 4241 et seq., and a defendant's entitlement to a preliminary examination following her initial appearance. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 5, 5.1.
The competency statute is silent as to whether its procedures preempt all others where a defendant's participation is contemplated. Defendant cites In re Barnard, 147 U.S. App. D.C. 302, 455 F.2d 1370 (D.C. Cir. 1971), which stands for the general proposition that an individual cannot be subjected to civil commitment absent a finding of probable cause to believe the individual is mentally ill. See id. at 1374. This of course does not answer the question whether, in the criminal context, the basis for the underlying offense must be established prior to a competency evaluation.
In one sense, a determination of a defendant's competency would be helpful in conducting the preliminary examination, where the defense cross-examines adverse witnesses and introduces its own evidence. The Court assumes this was the Magistrate's primary consideration in choosing to travel the competency route first.
The fact remains, however that the probable cause determination is a preliminary one, just as is the competency determination. In providing for the latter, Congress did not question a defendant's ability to challenge the government's evidence of incompetency, through her own testimony, evidence and cross-examination of witnesses against her. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 4247(d). It is not clear whether this is because a defendant is presumptively competent until the contrary is demonstrated, see Brown v. Warden, 682 F.2d 348, 349 (2d Cir. 1982),
or because able defense counsel, appointed if necessary, are manifestly capable of ensuring the fairness of such preliminary proceedings. In either case, the need for scrutinizing a defendant's understanding of the proceedings at initial phases appears to be somewhat lesser than during trial.
There is also a component to the preliminary examination which renders it of particular importance in the context of a questionably competent criminal defendant. Probable cause as to the commission of a federal crime not only establishes a basis to hold the individual over, it establishes the basis for federal jurisdiction, without which the competency provisions themselves cannot operate. As was observed in United States v. Marino, 148 F. Supp. 75 (N.D. Ill. 1957):
The power under which a hearing may be held and a commitment made is the power to prosecute for federal offenses. If there is no federal offense there is no power. Any other holding would transform [the competency provisions] into a vehicle by which the federal government could assume the care and responsibility for the mentally ill -- a result surely not contemplated by Congress.
Id. at 76 (citation omitted).
With this principle in mind, the Magistrate was in error in refusing to conduct a preliminary examination under Rule 5 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure pending completion of the defendant's competency evaluation. This matter is therefore remanded for a determination, following such examination, whether the complaint as presently framed states an offense under 18 U.S.C. § 115. If this question is resolved in the government's favor, the competency evaluation may proceed. If the contrary, the complaint should be dismissed, and the defendant released from custody.
An appropriate Order accompanies this ...