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Hooker v. United States

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

July 18, 2013

Michael Hooker, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

Argued June 6, 2013

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CMD-13940-09) (Hon. Craig Iscoe, Trial Judge)

Mindy A. Daniels for appellant.

John P. Mannarino, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Ronald C. Machen Jr., United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and Colleen M. Kennedy, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before Thompson and Easterly, Associate Judges, and Schwelb, Senior Judge.

Thompson, Associate Judge

Following a bench trial before the Honorable Craig Iscoe, appellant Michael Hooker was convicted of two counts of misdemeanor sexual abuse of a child, based on evidence that the trial court found proved the government's charge that, on at least two occasions "between on or about August 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008, " he engaged in "sexually suggestive conduct"[1] with a nine-year-old girl, S.T., in his apartment. In this appeal, appellant seeks reversal on the grounds that (1) the court erred in finding, on the basis of a retrospective competency examination, that appellant was competent to stand trial, and (2) the evidence at trial was insufficient to prove that he committed the charged offenses on or about the dates specified in the amended information. Appellant also identifies errors in the "Date[s] of Offense" shown on the judgment. For the reasons explained below, we affirm appellant's convictions, but remand for the trial court to correct the judgment.


A. Background pertaining to the competency determination

Prior to appellant's trial, his then-counsel, Andrew Delehanty, filed a motion for a forensic screening to "determine [appellant's] competency to participate in the defense." The motion explained that during a telephone conversation in which counsel sought to prepare appellant for trial, appellant "launched into a monologue about the case and collateral matters that lasted over forty minutes." Each time counsel attempted to ask appellant a question, appellant "again started long rambling and unresponsive answers." Counsel asserted that it appeared to him that appellant was "not able to co-operate with his attorney, at least not in a fashion conducive to trial preparation" and "not able to focus on matters at hand."

On May 3, 2010, the Honorable Bruce D. Beaudin granted counsel's request for a forensic screening. On the same day, Dr. Renita Perkins, a psychologist with the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health ("DMH"), conducted the screening and submitted her report to the court. Dr. Perkins noted that appellant reported that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had been prescribed a mood stabilizing medication that was "not effective for him"; she "attempted to contact his current treatment providers but could not reach them prior to the submittal of [her] report." She observed, inter alia, that appellant's "conversation was mostly logical[] and coherent" but that his speech was "rapid in pace, . . . becoming particularly elevated when discussing his case, " and that he "required redirection on numerous occasions throughout the evaluation." She also reported that:

[Appellant] knew the nature and gravity of the charges against him and he was familiar with the account described in the police report, but adamantly denied its validity. He demonstrated a basic and accurate knowledge of legal proceedings and the roles of various courtroom officials, including the function of a jury. He was able to discuss the various plea options available, including the concept of plea bargaining, and he seemed to have the capacity to make reasoned choices regarding plea options. . . . He understood the importance of cooperating with defense counsel and seemed to appreciate the adversarial nature of legal proceedings. He indicated however, that although he wished to work with his current attorney, he felt that his attorney "did not want to hear [him] out." Although [appellant] identified appropriate courtroom behavior, given his excessive speech and tangentiality, he may have some difficulty demonstrating this behavior during the legal proceedings.

Dr. Perkins opined that appellant was "incompetent to participate in court proceedings" and recommended that the court "wait 45 days before scheduling the next hearing, " to "allow [appellant] time to enroll in and benefit from treatment[.]"

In the meantime, appellant's case had been certified for a non-jury trial to be handled by an available Superior Court judge, and Judge Iscoe volunteered to handle the trial, unaware that an issue had been raised about appellant's competency. On May 11, 2010, appellant's trial commenced and was completed. Neither Mr. Delehanty nor the prosecutor made mention of the competency screening or raised an issue of appellant's competency to stand trial.[2] As the court was unaware that a screening report had been filed, the court proceeded to verdict and sentencing without either having ordered a full ...

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