Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Failure to Order Competency Hearing Was Not Abuse of Discretion

United States v. Harry, No. 12-3623-cr (2d Cir. Dec. 19, 2013) (Pooler, Parker, and Wesley) (summary order), available here

Convicted of threatening to harm the family of a United States Probation Officer, the defendant was sentenced principally to 46 months of imprisonment. He argued on appeal that the district court should have ordered a competency hearing in response to his erratic behavior. He also claimed that the court improperly excluded certain evidence at trial.
The Circuit affirmed. First, it held that, though the defendant was indisputably mentally ill, the district court was not required to hold a competency hearing. The record showed that the court properly assured itself that the defendant had an understanding of the proceedings and was fully able to participate in his defense. 
The Court also upheld the district court’s decision to exclude from evidence certain voicemail messages, which included discussions of the defendant’s participation in substance abuse/mental health programs. The panel held that the court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that the limited relevance of the evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of misleading or confusing the jury as to the issue of the defendant’s mental health. The exclusion of the evidence was also not prejudicial because, even without the voicemail messages, defense counsel was able to delve into the complexities of the defendant’s relationship with the Probation Department.   
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