Monday, May 31st, 2010

PC World

In its two latest per curiam opinions, the court discusses a traffic stop and the district court’s obligation to sua sponte ensure that the defendant is competent.

In United States v. Harrison, No. 09-2907-cr (2d Cir. May 26, 2010)(Jacobs, Miner, Wesley, CJJ)(per curiam), the court rejected a claim that the police unreasonably prolonged an otherwise lawful traffic stop by questioning the defendant and his passengers about matters unrelated to the basis for the stop. The total time elapsed was only “five to six minutes.”

In United States v. Arenburg, 08-5090-cr (2d Cir. May 25, 2010) (Miner, Cabranes, Wesley, CJJ) (per curiam), a magistrate judge found the defendant competent to go to trial and proceed pro se a few months before trial. But at trial, the defendant behaved quite erratically, blaming MGM studios for conducting illegal drug trafficking in his name, and questioning witnesses about “radio waives” and “microwave channels.” His summation was equally bizarre. Despite this, the district court never revisited the question of the defendant’s competency. Finding this to be error, the court remanded for further findings on the defendant’s competency. Whenever there is reasonable cause to question a defendant’s competency, the district court must conduct a hearing, even if the parties have not raised the matter themselves.

Interestingly, court noted that the defendant had fully served his sentence and was no longer in the country, but did not consider the issue to be moot.

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