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United States v. Gonzalez-Acevedo

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

August 23, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JESUS ELIEZER GONZALEZ-ACEVEDO, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendant's objections to the magistrate judge's June 29, 2019, order and incorporated motion for immediate release (DE 39). The government did not respond to the objection and incorporated motion. For the reasons set forth below, the court overrules the objection and denies the motion.

         BACKGROUND

         Indictment filed December 13, 2017, charges defendant with maliciously attempting to damage and destroy, by means of fire, a building that was used in an activity affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(I). On December 19, 2017, the government filed motion for order directing that defendant undergo a competency evaluation pursuant 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241(a), (b) and 4247(b). On December 21, 2017, the magistrate judge granted the government's motion for competency evaluation, and committed defendant to the custody of the Attorney General, for the purpose of conducting the initial competency evaluation.

         On May 21, 2018, officials at the Federal Medical Center in Devens, Massachusetts submitted the competency evaluation, which found defendant was not competent to proceed. The magistrate judge held competency hearing on July 23, 2018. The following day, the magistrate judge entered written order finding by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him incompetent to stand trial. The magistrate judge then committed defendant to the custody of the Attorney General, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d), to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward.

         On January 23, 2019, a psychologist with the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina (“FMC-Butner”) completed the second competency evaluation. The psychologist opined that defendant remained incompetent to proceed at that time, but noted defendant likely could be restored to competency in the future. FMC-Butner staff requested additional 120-day period of commitment in which they would attempt to restore competency. On January 30, 2019, the magistrate judge entered order finding there was a substantial probability that defendant could be restored to competency within 120 days. The magistrate judge therefore ordered defendant committed to the custody of the Attorney General for 120 days pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2).

         On June 14, 2019, FMC-Butner staff submitted the third competency evaluation, opining that defendant remained incompetent to proceed. This time, the psychologist opined there was not a substantial probability that defendant's competency could be restored in the foreseeable future. On June 19, 2019, the magistrate judge held telephonic status conference with the parties regarding the third evaluation. On June 27, 2019, the magistrate judge adopted the findings of the evaluation, and found defendant's condition was not so improved as to permit the proceedings to go forward. The magistrate judge also determined that defendant is subject to the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 4246, and ordered defendant committed to the custody of the attorney general for an additional 45 days for evaluation of whether defendant is subject to civil commitment.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 59 permits a district judge to refer to a magistrate judge for determination any matter that does not dispose of a charge or offense. Fed. R. Crim. P. 59(a). The magistrate judge may enter order resolving the pretrial matter, and a party may serve and file objections. Id. “The district judge must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is contrary to law or clearly erroneous.” Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

         Defendant argues the June 27, 2019, order committing him for evaluation under 18 U.S.C. § 4246 is “contrary to law” and contravenes due process and equal protection principles. Specifically, defendant asserts the magistrate judge lacked authority to “initiate” an action under § 4246 or otherwise commit him for evaluation of whether he should be civilly committed. (DE 39 at 2-3). Defendant also argues he has been detained “well past a reasonable time to determine if there was a substantial probability that he would attain competency to proceed” in violation of the Due Process Clause and equal protection principles. (Id. at 1).

         A. Statutory Framework

         Section 4241 provides that defendant or the government may file motion for hearing to determine competency of a defendant at any time after initiation of a federal criminal prosecution. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a). The court must grant the motion, or order a hearing on its own motion, if “there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rending him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.” Id. T h e court may order a psychiatric or psychological examination of defendant prior to the hearing, and commit defendant to the custody of the Attorney General for a period not to exceed 30 days for purposes of this evaluation.[2] See 18 U.S.C. §§ 4241, 4247(b).

         If, after the hearing, the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is presently incompetent to stand trial, the court “shall commit” defendant to the custody of the Attorney General. 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d). The Attorney General must then hospitalize the defendant in a suitable facility, “for such a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, as is necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward.” Id. § 4241(d)(1). At the end of the initial § 4241(d)(1) commitment period, the court may order further commitment pursuant to § 4241(d)(2), “for an additional reasonable period of time until [the defendant's] mental condition is so improved that trial may proceed” but only “if the court finds there is a substantial probability that within such additional period of time he will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward.” Id. § 4241(d)(2). If, at the end of the reasonable period of time specified in the court's § 4241(d)(2) order, “it is determined that the defendant's mental condition has not so improved as to permit the proceedings to go forward, the defendant is subject to the provisions of sections 4246 and 4248.” Id. § 4241(d).

         Section 4246 provides procedures for civil commitment of certain persons in federal custody who are presently suffering from a mental illness and whose release would create a substantial risk of harm to others or their property. 18 ...


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