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Wallace v. United States

September 13, 2007

ERIC R. WALLACE, APPELLANT,
v.
UNITED STATES, APPELLEE.



Appeals from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (F-7221-02) (Hon. Patricia A. Broderick, Trial Judge).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, Associate Judge

Argued December 20, 2006

Before FARRELL, RUIZ and THOMPSON,Associate Judges.

After accepting a guilty plea from appellant Eric R. Wallace, the trial court found Wallace guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced him to thirty-five years in prison, to be followed by five years of supervised release. Wallace contends that the court erred in finding that he was competent to stand trial and to enter a guilty plea, and that the trial judge abused her discretion in denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. He argues in the alternative that his sentence must be vacated because it was based on uncorroborated and unreliable information. We agree with the trial judge that this is a difficult case. However, finding no clear error or abuse of discretion in the court's rulings, we affirm Wallace's conviction and deny the requested relief.

Background

During early 2002, doctors at St. Elizabeths Hospital found appellant incompetent to stand trial in three misdemeanor assault cases that were then pending. The government thereafter petitioned to have appellant civilly committed. Appellant opposed the government's request that he be held at St. Elizabeths pending resolution of the commitment petition, and he was released on October 10, 2002. Later that same day, appellant encountered Claude McCants at 1108 4th Street, N.E., stabbed McCants in the neck, and drove away in McCants' vehicle, leaving McCants to bleed to death.

Relying on a court-ordered competency screening completed in November 2002, the court found appellant competent to stand trial for the murder of McCants. The court also ordered a criminal responsibility study, the results of which were summarized in a June 2003 report that concluded that "on or about October 10, 2002, . . . [appellant] was not suffering from a mental disease or defect that substantially impaired his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or his ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law." Notwithstanding, on August 12, 2003, appellant filed a motion asking the court to find him incompetent to stand trial and a notice of intent to rely on the insanity defense. In response, the court ordered the Legal Services Division of the Forensic Services Administration*fn1 to render an opinion as to the "present mental competency of [appellant] to stand trial."

Dr. Oliver performed the competency examination. In a letter dated September 29, 2003, he reported that although appellant "claimed to have no knowledge whatsoever of the judicial process and the roles of various court officials," his "presentation today appeared to be completely volitional." Dr. Oliver concluded that appellant was malingering.*fn2 After receiving his report, the court scheduled a competency hearing, which was conducted over a five-day period between October 28 and November 4, 2003. Having heard the testimony of five expert witnesses and reviewed numerous written reports about appellant's mental status, the court ruled on November 10, 2003 that appellant was competent to stand trial.

When the parties were before the court again on January 5, 2004 -- the date set for commencement of trial -- defense counsel informed the court that appellant "indicated again last night that he would like to accept the Government's plea offer." After a colloquy that resulted in the court's finding that appellant "understands the proceedings and is competent to proceed," the court accepted appellant's unconditional plea of guilty to one count of Second Degree Murder While Armed. At a Frendak*fn3 hearing on January 15, 2004, the court also found that appellant "understands the consequences of the choice to waive the [insanity] defense" and that his "waiver is voluntary and intelligent." The court sentenced appellant on February 27, 2004, and appellant filed his notice of appeal on March 26, 2004. On August 19, 2004, he also moved to withdraw his guilty plea, and his appeal was stayed pending resolution of that motion. By order dated October 27, 2005, the trial court denied the motion to withdraw and appellant noted an appeal from the denial order. We consolidated the two appeals.

Analysis

I.

The government urges that we must dismiss appellant's direct appeal. We agree that our case law requires this result. We have said that "as a practical matter virtually every possible avenue of appeal is waived by a guilty plea," Bettis v. United States, 325 A.2d 190, 194 (D.C. 1974), and that "the only issues that are appropriately raised in an appeal from a conviction entered after a guilty plea are the exercise of jurisdiction by the trial court and the legality of the sentence imposed." Carmichael v. United States, 479 A.2d 325, 326 n.1 (D.C. 1984) (citing Lorimer v. United States, 425 A.2d 1306, 1308 (D.C. 1981) (per curiam)). We have recognized that "a defendant who is sentenced after pleading guilty may later attack the voluntary and intelligent character of the plea," McClurkin v. United States, 472 A.2d 1348, 1352 (D.C. 1984), but have held that "the appropriate method for challenging the voluntary and intelligent character of a guilty plea is by a Rule 32 (e) motion to withdraw."*fn4 Lorimer, 425 A.2d at 1309.*fn5

As appellant points out, some jurisdictions have determined to "treat appeals of competency determinations as an exception to the . . . rule" that "a voluntary guilty plea waives all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings leading up to the plea." State v. Cleary, 824 A.2d 509, 512 (Vt. 2003).*fn6 This court, by contrast, has "refus[ed] to exercise our jurisdiction to hear a challenge to a guilty plea" outside the context of an appeal from denial of a motion to withdraw a guilty plea, Lorimer, 425 A.2d at 1309 n.6, with the objective of "reduc[ing] the great waste of judicial resources required to process frivolous attacks on guilty plea convictions." Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted).*fn7 Even were we free to depart from that practice in this case, we would have no reason to do so, because, as noted, appellant did in fact move in the trial court for leave to withdraw his plea, and we have before us his appeal from the trial court's decision denying that motion.

After the imposition of sentence, as in this case, a court will allow the withdrawal of a guilty plea only "to correct manifest injustice . . . ." Super Ct. Crim. R. 32 (e).*fn8 To meet this burden, appellant must establish either that "there was a fatal defect in the Rule 11 [plea] proceeding when the guilty plea was taken," or that "justice demands withdrawal under the circumstances of the case." Pierce v. United States, 705 A.2d 1086, 1089 (D.C. 1997).*fn9 We review a trial court order denying a Rule 32 (e) motion to withdraw a guilty plea for abuse of discretion. See Carmichael, 479 A.2d at 327. In light of the procedural history of this case, our review here will largely entail application of a "clear error" standard, as we now explain.*fn10

Appellant first attempts to meet the burden of establishing that "justice demands withdrawal" of his guilty plea by showing that he was mentally incompetent at the time of the plea. See Willis v. United States, 468 A.2d 1320, 1323 (D.C. 1983) ("Having failed to show that he was mentally incompetent, [appellant] has also failed to meet his burden of proving manifest injustice."). He attempts to make that showing by challenging the validity of the trial court's determination that he was competent to stand trial. See Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389, 400-01 (1993) (holding that the competency required to plead guilty is the same as the competency required for standing trial). Accordingly, we are compelled to consider whether the trial court's November 10, 2003 competency determination is "supported by the record," Bennett v. United States, 400 A.2d 322, 325 (D.C. 1979), or whether the trial court clearly erred when it determined on November 10, 2003 that appellant was competent to stand trial*fn11 (or when it relied on that conclusion in accepting Wallace's guilty plea on January 5, 2004, without any further hearing on competency).

Appellant next argues that the Rule 11 plea proceeding was defective because, regardless of his mental competency, he did not actually understand the significance of the proceeding and the rights he was waiving. We therefore have the task of determining whether the trial court clearly erred in finding that appellant made his guilty plea knowingly.*fn12 See Johnson v. United States, 631 A.2d 871, 878-79 (D.C. 1993) (Farrell, J., concurring) (noting that the clear error standard prescribed by D.C. Code § 17-305 (a) applies to review of the trial judge's findings based on a defendant's statements during a plea inquiry).

II.

As already noted, appellant contends that "justice demands withdrawal" of his guilty plea because of his lack of mental competency. He argues that the evidence presented at his competency hearing -- his diagnoses of cognitive impairment and "dementia due to seizure disorder and insulin-dependent diabetes," and the fact that "six different doctors independently determined that [he] was not competent to stand trial" -- either taken alone or viewed in conjunction with post-competency-hearing evidence presented with his motion to withdraw, compels a conclusion that he was incompetent to stand trial and to plead. We consider these arguments in section II.A. infra.

Appellant also asserts that he "was obviously confused throughout the plea proceedings" and that the trial judge abused her discretion, both in accepting his guilty plea and in denying his motion to withdraw the plea, in the face of his repeated assertions about self-defense, lack of excessive force, and the insanity defense.We address these arguments in section II.B. infra.

A. Appellant's Competence to Stand Trial or Plead Guilty

"Constitutional due process requires that a criminal defendant be mentally competent for a trial to proceed." Higgenbottom v. United States, 923 A.2d 891, 897 (D.C. 2007) (citation omitted). In a competency proceeding, the relevant inquiry is whether a defendant has a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him and whether he can consult with his lawyer and assist in preparing his defense. See id.; see also Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) (per curiam) (establishing the requirements of rational and factual understanding and competent consultation with a lawyer) and Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171 (1975) (requiring a defendant to be able to "assist in preparing his defense").

1. Evidence Presented at the Competency Hearing

At the competency hearing in this case, appellant presented evidence that he had long suffered from Type I diabetes, causing him to experience erratic and abnormal swings in his blood sugar, and that he also had a long history of epileptic seizures. Dr. Thomas Hyde, a board-certified neurologist who examined and tested appellant on April 23, 2002, and October 6, 2003, testified that "due to poorly controlled seizures and repeated hypoglycemic insults to the brain over the years," appellant was in a "cognitively impaired state" and had "significant impairment in neurological function, especially in domains of attention and memory" that "would impair his ability to understand the proceedings that he would be involved with, and to participate and work with his counsel in an effective manner" and that "render him incompetent from the medical/legal standpoint." Dr. Hyde also testified that appellant's "Full Scale IQ was found to 11 be 55" and that "people who are below 60 are really quite significantly impaired."

Dr. David Pickar, a psychiatrist,*fn13 met with appellant on three different occasions --January, April, and September of 2003. He testified that appellant demonstratedperseveration, a symptom of frontal lobe dysfunction. Dr. Pickar also testified that during his September 2003 evaluation of appellant, he explored at some length appellant's understanding of the legal process. He found appellant "unable to understand the fundamental nature of the defense-prosecution, defendant relationship" and "[u]nable to understand relationship with defense attorney." Dr. Pickar did not think that appellant "got [i.e.,comprehended] the idea of pleading guilty." Dr. Pickar concluded that appellant "does not have sufficient understanding of the legal process, or the ability to work appropriately with counsel in the context of a central nervous system disorder that involves dementia, probably secondary to epilepsy; and that he is not competent to stand trial, and that the deficits that are germane to this conclusion are not related to malingering."*fn14

The government's experts did not dispute that appellant had some degree of cognitive impairment. Dr. Raymond Patterson,*fn15 a forensic psychiatrist who had completed several hundred competency examinations, testified that he "had no conflict" with tests showing that appellant had some degree of neurological damage and acknowledged that "there might be some mild dementia," but stated that this "does not mean that [appellant] does not have the ability . . . to exaggerate as much as he might think he should to convince people that he doesn't know what's going on." Dr. Patterson opined that appellant "certainly was malingering" and "certainly was . . . exaggerating symptoms . . . when they said he had an IQ of 55, because I simply don't believe he has an IQ of 55." Dr. Patterson cited specific examples of appellant's malingering: "choosing how [he] respond[s] based on who [he's] talking to"; appellant's "ridiculous" response to a question about the colors of the American flag, a question that even mentally retarded individuals and people with serious mental illness "don't miss"; appellant's claim to hear voices but his ability to concentrate and his lack of distraction, which are inconsistent with that affliction; and his exhibiting "high-level" planned behavior, such as injecting himself with insulin to get medical attention in the emergency room faster than other people.

Dr. Patterson further testified that appellant's behaviors inconsistent with an IQ level of 55 included acting as a "predator" while at St. Elizabeths but not while in jail, where appellant appeared to be "normal," like "any other inmate who is not receiving mental health services." Dr. Patterson agreed with a statement in a discharge summary, attributed to Dr. William Richie, one of appellant's treating psychiatrists at St. Elizabeths, that appellant was "capable of dissimulating, fabricating, prevaricating and malingering cognitive disabilities in excess of his documented deficits." Noting that the issue was "whether or not [appellant] understands, rationally and factually these proceedings, the charges against him, the consequences; and can he, does he have the ability to assist his attorney," Dr. Patterson stated that "In my view, he has both of those." Dr. Patterson thought that appellant's case was "not a close call at all," explaining that "when [appellant] adheres to his treatment regime, seems to do pretty well. When he doesn't, he runs into problems. The latter, in my view, are very much and directly related to his attempts to not have this matter go forward, and in part because he has been in a position where precisely that has happened before."

Dr. Steven Lally, a clinical and forensic psychologist who had previously conducted between 200 and 250 competency evaluations,*fn16 spent 7 1/2 to 8 hours with appellant at the D.C. Jail on October 24, 2003. Dr. Lally administered a neuropsychological screening test that showed that appellant was "performing in the moderate to severely impaired range." Dr. Lally also administered a test for memory malingering that "did not disclose malingering." Dr. Lally explained that the tests showed that appellant was "answering in a . . . sort of careless random fashion," the reason for which the test cannot explain. Dr. Lally concluded that one "should not put a lot of credibility [sic] in terms of [appellant's] performance in psychological tests." With respect to one of the tests, Dr. Lally also explained that"if [the] test does not indicate malingering,it does not mean that the individual is not malingering. In other words, it's a test that's very effective when it does indicate malingering. But studies have shown that a number of malingerers . . . don't necessarily get caught with the [test]."

On the basis of an interview with appellant, Dr. Lally concluded that appellant's behavior was inconsistent with the degree of impairment that appellant claimed, but was consistent with malingering. Dr. Lally noted that when he would stop taking notes during a meeting with appellant, appellant's speech became more spontaneous and his answers more accurate. Further, appellant mixed symptoms of various disorders and failed to remember details of the crime unless the detail was exculpatory. Dr. Lally testified that although appellant reported "hearing voices," his symptoms were inconsistent with that condition. The symptoms that appellant reported were also inconsistent from one doctor's visit to the next, which Dr. Lally explained was a sign of malingering because malingerers "don't always know how to respond." Dr. Lally concluded that appellant was malingering "both psychotic symptoms and also some degree of cognitive impairment."

Dr. Oliver testified that he found "inexplicable inconsistencies" between the November 2002 and September 2003 interviews he conducted with appellant.*fn17 During both interviews, appellant exhibited a good memory, was able to recite telephone and social security numbers, and could give background details. During the September 2003 interview, however, in contrast with the November 2002 interview, appellant had no knowledge about the charges and legal issues discussed. Unable to explain the differences in appellant's behavior, Dr. Oliver concluded that appellant was intentionally producing symptoms.

2. The Trial Court's Competency Ruling

Upon this evidence the trial court found that there was "no doubt that Mr. Wallace suffers some cognitive deficits," but that it was "evident from the record" that these impairments do not "preclude him from the rational understanding of the charges and proceedings against him," "nor do they preclude him from consulting with his lawyers." The court concluded that appellant is "malingering and remains competent to stand trial in this case."

Appellant accuses the trial court of "look[ing] past the mountain of scientific evidence showing the [appellant's] incompetence" and "seiz[ing] upon a red herring: the prosecution's charges of 'malingering' . . . ." We are satisfied, however, that the trial judge did not ignore or overlook appellant's evidence of impairment.

First, acknowledging the conflicting evidence, the court told the parties that "this is a difficult difficult case." Second, explaining its finding that appellant was malingering, the trial court specifically relied on the testimony that, on one of the tests for malingering, appellant gave "careless responses which invalidated the test results," and that even when an individual "passes" a malingering test "it does not mean you do not have malingering. It just means they didn't choose to do it in a way that is detected in [the] test." Appellant emphasizes the evidence that he "passed" two tests designed to detect malingering and asserts that the court's finding that he was malingering cannot be squared with the evidence, but the trial judge's explanation identified evidence that, we agree, supports her conclusion.

Third, the trial court's finding that appellant was competent to stand trial is not plainly contrary to the neurological evidence of appellant's impairment. The defense and prosecution experts agreed that cognitive impairment does not necessarily mean incompetence: Dr. Hyde acknowledged that an individual with organic brain damage can be competent, and Dr. Patterson testified that cognitive impairment and brain damage do not necessarily render someone incompetent to stand trial and that a person's having dementia does not mean that he is incompetent. Further, there was no consensus, even among defense experts, that appellant suffered from psychosis or any other mental illness.*fn18

Appellant suggests that the trial court should have given more weight to the competency determinations by doctors who saw appellant over the course of his several-month-long inpatient stays at St. Elizabeths than to the views of the doctors who saw appellant on fewer, more abbreviated occasions. However, in exercising her discretion, the trial judge was entitled to credit the view of the government's experts that those doctors simply "got it wrong."*fn19 Cf.

United States v. Chischilly, 30 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 1994) ("[t]o the extent that [the trial judge], from his courtroom observations, assigned more weight to the Government's expert than to the contrary, . . . he was acting within his discretion to do so as a part of his fact-finding and credibility-weighing functions."). In some instances, this court accords greater weight to the opinions and diagnoses of a treating physician than to the opinions of non-treating physicians who have been engaged to provide medical evaluations. See, e.g., Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 926 A.2d 140, 146(D.C. 2007) (noting that the law affords the diagnosis of a treating physician more weight than the conflicting opinion of a non-treating physician in a worker's compensation determination); Kralick v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 842 A.2d 705, 711 (D.C. 2004) (same, citing case authority). However, with respect to competency determinations in criminal cases, neither this court nor others have required deference to treating physicians or to doctors who saw a defendant on multiple occasions as an inpatient.*fn20

Moreover, even if the trial court had given special weight to the views of appellant's treating physicians, no different result would have been required. None of the experts who testified at the competency hearing were appellant's "treating physicians." But Dr. William Richie was one of appellant's treating psychiatrists at St. Elizabeths, and the St. Elizabeths discharge summary discussed at the competency hearing attributed to Dr. Richie the statement that appellant "has [a] selective memory and is capable of dissimulating, fabricating, prevaricating and malingering cognitive disabilities in excess of his documented deficits."*fn21 And although other doctors who saw appellant on an inpatient basis at St. Elizabeths in 2002 and 2003 opined that he was unable to participate in court proceedings or to assist counsel with his defense, see supra note 14, experts appear to agree that an individual who is mentally incompetent to stand trial at one point in time may be competent to stand trial at a later time. For example, while Dr. Boss found appellant incompetent to participate in court proceedings in January 2002, she also commented that it "may be useful for Mr. Wallace if defense counsel can spend even more time with him to go over the details of his cases and legal strategy. Multiple repetitions, in addition to frequent discussion, may help [him] recall what he needs to know in order to better inform his choices and ability to participate." See also Carmichael, 479 A.2d at 327 (noting that a doctor at St. Elizabeths had confirmed that Carmichael was incompetent to stand trial, "but three months later this same doctor reported that the subject's mental condition had improved enough so that he was fit to stand trial").Notably, the record indicates that appellant did receive "competency training" while at St. Elizabeths. All of this is to say that even if the court had been required to accord special significance to the views of the St. Elizabeths doctors that appellant was incompetent to stand trial at the time the doctors expressed those views, deference to those doctors' views did not require the court to find that appellant was incompetent to stand trial in November 2003 or to enter a plea in January 2004.

The trial court weighed the evidence and found that "while . . . there is dementia and impairment," the "evidence of malingering is far more powerful than the evidence of significant progressive deterioration." In essence, appellant's disagreement is with the weight the trial judge accorded to the conflicting expert opinions about competency.

To disturb the trial court's findings, however, this court would have to re-weigh the evidence. That we may not do.

Our case law is clear that when there is a plausible explanation presented by two competing groups of experts, the decision is one for the fact finder. See Jackson v. Condor Mgmt. Group, Inc., 587 A.2d 222, 225 (D.C. 1991) ("When a case turns on controverted facts and the credibility of witnesses, as this one does, it is peculiarly one for the [finder of fact]. The fact that some of the witnesses may be experts does not alter this rule." (internal citation omitted)). This principle applies with respect to expert medical testimony just as it does to other expert evidence. See Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth. v. District of Columbia Dep't of Employment Servs., 770 A.2d 965, 970 (D.C. 2001) ("In evaluating conflicting medical testimony, as in weighing evidence generally, the hearing examiner has wide latitude. The examiner is entitled to draw reasonable inferences from the evidence presented, and her decisions are especially weighty when they involve credibility determinations." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). And it applies with respect to competency hearings just as it does to other proceedings. See, e.g., Ray v. Duckworth, 881 F.2d 512, 516 (7th Cir. 1989) (holding that "[b]ecause of the potential for divergent and often conflicting opinions on the issue of the defendant's competency, we must be careful to give due regard to the trial court's superior ability to draw the appropriate inferences from its observation of the defendant and expert witnesses, as well as the examination reports before it," and noting that the trial court was making a "credibility determination" when it chose to believe the expert opining that appellant was malingering).

In this case, the trial court was presented with "two permissible views of the evidence as to competency . . . ." Villegas, 899 F.2d at 1341. "[T]he court's choice between them cannot be deemed clearly erroneous." Id.; see also Izquierdo, 448 F.3d at 1278 (same). We can find no clear error in the court's November 2003 determination that appellant was competent to stand trial. Accordingly, appellant has not met the "substantial" burden he must meet to show that withdrawal of his plea was necessary to correct a manifest injustice. Williams v. United States, 595 A.2d 1003, 1006 (D.C. 1991); see also Higgenbottom, 923 A.2d at 897 ("We review a court's competency determination . . . for abuse of discretion, the exercise of which we will not lightly disturb." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

3. The Court's Denial of the Motion to Withdraw in the Face of Post-Competency Hearing Evidence

Just before the plea proceedings commenced on January 5, 2004, the court was advised that appellant had been hospitalized for twelve days during December 2003. The court inquired of defense counsel whether he had "seen any significant difference in [appellant's] functioning since this latest episode in the hospital." Although defense counsel responded that he had not,*fn22 the information about appellant's post-competency-hearing hospitalization arguably raised anew the issue of appellant's competency. This court has held that "where the issue of a defendant's mental competence [has] been raised on the record, the trial court must conduct a specialized hearing to determine the competence of a defendant who seeks to plead guilty." Edwards, 766 A.2d at 988 (quoting Hunter v. United States, 548 A.2d 806 (D.C. 1988)). The trial judge did not conduct a second competency hearing, and so we must address the issue of how this bears on appellant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The issue is an important one because the record reveals that appellant suffered a major seizure on December 18, 2003, and while hospitalized underwent an EEG that showed what Dr. Hyde, in a letter dated January 8, 2004, called "markedly abnormal brain activity."*fn23 And, in her November 10, 2003 competency ruling, the trial judge had specifically noted Dr. Hyde's testimony that "seizures can result in loss of consciousness and confusion in post seizure, as well as an impairment of cognitive function."

We addressed a similar situation in Edwards, where the court conducted a plea proceeding and accepted Edwards' guilty plea while "unaware of his diminished mental capacity," which was later documented in an evaluation by a clinical psychologist, Dr. Levin. Dr. Levin's evaluation described the substantial brain damage and marked changes in cognitive functioning that Edwards had sustained after a beating by police years earlier. See 766 A.2d at 984, 987. We noted that even though the trial court had been unaware of this history during the plea proceeding, the trial judge's denial of Edwards' post-sentencing motion to withdraw his plea "was informed by Dr. Levin's evaluation." Id. at 988. We rejected Edwards' claim that the court had erred in denying his motion to withdraw, noting that the denial was "based primarily on [the trial judge's] personal observations of and conversations with Edwards, factors to which we accord great deference." Id. We also noted that Dr. Levin "never opined that Edwards was incompetent to enter a plea," id., and that the trial judge had clearly considered Dr. Levin's report but rejected it as "unpersuasive on the issue of Edwards' competence at the time of the plea." Id. at 988 n.10.

We reason similarly here. It appears that Judge Broderick was not aware of the details of appellant's December 2003 hospitalization and EEG at the time of the plea proceeding, but information about both did inform her denial of Wallace's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Judge Broderick noted that appellant's EEG taken on December 24, 2003 "evidenced permanent and irreversible brain damage," that appellant had "a major seizure on December 18, 2003, eighteen days before his plea hearing," and that Dr. Hyde "found that [appellant] became confused for several days after 'a bout of severe seizures.'" However, like the trial judge in Edwards,Judge Broderick found the evidence relating to the December 2003 episode unpersuasive on the issue of competence, stating that "[n]o evidence was presented that there was a change in the Defendant's [competency] since the time of the competency findings." We find no clear error in the court's assessment. Even if we discount the lay opinions of defense counsel that there was no change in Wallace's functioning between the time of the competency hearing in November 2003 and January 2004, the record does not compel a conclusion that appellant's competency had diminished from November 2003 to January 2004.

As noted, Dr. Hyde's letter of January 8, 2004, interpreting appellant's December 24, 2003 EEG stated that the EEG showed "markedly abnormal brain wave activity, with slowing over the frontal lobes," consistent with "permanent and irreversible frontal lobe damage." But Dr. Hyde did not suggest in his letter that the new EEG showed that appellant was incompetent at the time of his plea.*fn24 Indeed, Dr. Hyde had earlier testified that an abnormal EEG does not mean that an individual is incompetent to stand trial, agreed that an EEG "look[ed] at . . . in isolation" does not tell much about competency, and explained that "it is possible [for an individual] to have both normal and abnormal studies." Also of particular note,Dr. Hyde had explained during the competency hearing that "you will see a lot of abnormalities in the post-seizure period." Taken together, Dr. Hyde's statements suggest that it was to be expected that appellant's EEG taken six days after his December 2003 seizure would show abnormal brain activity, and that no conclusion can be drawn from that EEG that appellant was less competent to enter a plea on January 5, 2004 (seventeen days post-seizure) than he had been at the time of the competency hearing.

Moreover, the December 2003 EEG appears to be cumulative of evidence already on the record. In his January 8, 2004 letter, Dr. Hyde referred to the 2003 EEG as providing "additional evidence of abnormal slowing over the frontal lobes" (emphasis added). This had already been shown "by other abnormalities on neurological examination reflecting his underlying brain damage," including "clumsy fine motor movements with the left hand, bilaterial grasp reflexes, and poor complex motor sequencing in the hands bilaterally." Dr. Hyde testified about these same abnormalities at the competency hearing, stating that in April 2003, appellant had "clumsiness on a number of fine motor movements," and "primitive reflexes," often seen in individuals with frontal lobe dysfunction," and noting that "there ha[d] been some progressive brain damage" since appellant's 2000 EEG (which had also shown "bilateral slowing over the cerebella hemispheres").*fn25 Cf. Williams, 595 A.2d at 1005 & n.2 (psychological report introduced at post-plea hearing had no bearing on defendant's competency because it added nothing to what was already known at the time of the plea).

Dr. Hyde's January 8, 2004 letter discussed not only appellant's December 24, 2003 EEG, but also the facts that appellant's "mental status fluctuates in response to his seizure disorder" and that appellant "often is confused for several days after a bout of severe seizures." It is not clear from the record whether appellant's December 18, 2003 seizure was part of a "bout of severe seizures," or whether, if appellant was confused after the December 18 seizure, that confusion (perhaps "several days" of confusion) had resolved or subsided by the end of his twelve-day hospital stay. However, in denying appellant's motion to withdraw, the trial judge emphasized that "[a]ll the evidence was considered," and one piece of important additional record evidence was an evaluation by Dr. Lally, setting out his findings from a 2.75-hour interview of appellant that Dr. Lally conducted at D.C. Jail on December 31, 2003, i.e.,after appellant had been discharged from Greater Southeast Community Hospital.*fn26 During this visit with appellant, Dr. Lally observed that appellant was "alert" and "oriented to person, place, and time" and that appellant's speech was clear and at a normal volume." Although appellant's "speech tended to be slower with lengthy delays in his response to questions" about court-related matters, there was "no evidence of a thought disorder in the form or content of his thinking." Appellant's "expression of affect was somewhat constricted, but generally appropriate." In short, this evaluation by Dr. Lally -- the only expert evaluation in the record that is based on an interview of appellant after his December 2003 seizure but before his January 5, 2004 guilty plea -- contained nothing that required the trial judge to conclude that appellant's competence to stand trial or plead guilty had diminished between the November 2003 competency hearing and the January 2004 plea proceedings.

We reach the same conclusion about the other new evidence that appellant presented with his Rule 32 (e) motion. Appellant contends that his Bureau of Prison medical records generated since his guilty plea -- one dated October 22, 2004, and the other dated January 7, 2005, --confirm that he is incompetent and not malingering.*fn27 The trial judge refused to consider these records, reasoning that they were not relevant to appellant's competency during the plea. The trial court applied the appropriate standard. As the Supreme Court instructed in Dusky, it is a defendant's "present ability" that should be evaluated during competency evaluations. 362 U.S. at 402. The trial judge did not abuse her discretion in holding that appellant's mental evaluations on dates nine and twelve months after the guilty plea have little if any relevance on the issue of whether appellant was competent when he entered his guilty plea. Cf. United States v. Collins, 430 F.3d 1260, 1267 (10th Cir. 2005) (noting that a defendant's competency can change over time) and Rogers v. Snyder, No. 00-007, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8866, *16-17 (D. Del. 2001) (disallowing new evidence suggesting that petitioner was not competent to stand trial in March 1996 as it was not relevant to whether petitioner was competent to enter a guilty plea in 1993).

Finally, as we did in Edwards, we accord great deference to Judge Broderick's personal observations of and conversations with appellant, which informed her judgment that appellant was competent to plead guilty on January 5, 2004. The trial judge noted in her order denying the motion to withdraw that she "carefully assessed the Defendant at every question" during the plea proceeding and that "the Defendant's mental state was understood and considered by the Court at the time of the plea."

For all the foregoing reasons, we cannot conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the Rule 32 (e) motion to withdraw on the grounds of appellant's (claimed) mental incompetency to enter a plea.

B. The Rule 11 Proceeding

The Rule 11 plea proceeding in this case was conducted on January 5, 2004. During a plea proceeding, the court must make inquiry and satisfy itself that "the defendant actually does understand the significance and consequences of a particular decision and whether the decision is uncoerced." Godinez, 509 U.S. at 401 n.12 (emphasis omitted). Appellant focuses on a number of exchanges that he argues evidence his "confusion" during the plea proceeding:

THE COURT: [Following an explanation of the insanity defense] All right. Now, do you intend to use ...


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