Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Erratic Behavior Following Guilty Plea Did Not Mandate New Competency Hearing or Reversal of Conviction

United States v. Kerr, No. 11-5462-cr(L) (2d Cir. May 16, 2014) (Kearse, Parker, and Hall), available here

After being charged with possessing MDMA with intent to distribute, Kerr ceased communicating with  — and then fired — his two appointed attorneys, insisted on pressing several “ill-advised theories of defense,” and underwent a competency examination that ultimately found him competent to stand trial. He elected to represent himself at trial but, with the assistance of a newly appointed attorney, pled guilty midway through. After entering the plea, Kerr resumed his prior behavior: he again refused to communicate with counsel and filed numerous pro se motions to withdraw his plea and obtain new counsel. At sentencing, Kerr’s attorney expressed concern about Kerr’s mental stability; the court also commented on his belligerent behavior. Ultimately, the court sentenced him to 121 months of imprisonment.

On appeal, the Circuit affirmed. It rejected Kerr’s argument that his post-plea “erratic” and “irrational” behavior required the district court to hold another competency hearing before imposing sentence. The Court also rejected the argument that Kerr was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by the denial of his multiple post-plea requests for an attorney to help him withdraw his plea.

Finally, the Court rejected Kerr’s challenges to his sentence, his claim that the district court should have allowed him to withdraw his plea, and all of his other arguments.  

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