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State v. Parry

Court of Appeals of Utah

February 1, 2018

State of Utah, Appellee,
v.
Marcus Wayne Parry, Appellant.

         Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable James R. Taylor No. 141402588

          Margaret P. Lindsay and Matthew R. Morrise, Attorneys for Appellant

          Sean D. Reyes and Kris C. Leonard, Attorneys for Appellee

          Judge Jill M. Pohlman authored this Opinion, in which Judges Michele M. Christiansen and Ryan M. Harris concurred.

          POHLMAN, Judge

         ¶1 Marcus Wayne Parry appeals the district court's order finding him competent to stand trial. We affirm.

         BACKGROUND

         ¶2 The State brought criminal charges against Parry for rape, tampering with a witness, and obstructing justice. Parry's counsel then filed a petition for inquiry into Parry's competency to proceed in the matter of the pending criminal charges. After determining that the petition raised a "bona fide doubt as to [Parry's] competency to stand trial, " the district court granted the petition and ordered that mental health experts examine Parry. One expert opined that Parry was incompetent to stand trial but had a "substantial probability" of becoming competent "in the foreseeable future." A second expert similarly opined that Parry was not competent to stand trial but disagreed about the prospect of restoring Parry's competency, concluding it was not substantially probable that his competency would be restored "in the near future."

         ¶3 Based on these two mental health evaluations, the State stipulated that Parry was not competent to proceed. Consistent with that stipulation, the district court found that Parry was mentally ill and ordered that he be committed to the care of the Utah Department of Human Services for no more than eighteen months or until stabilized, with treatment aimed at restoring his competency. While Parry spent time in county jail awaiting admission to the state hospital, [1] he underwent another evaluation. That evaluation, in which the examiner noted that he suspected Parry of malingering, [2] caused the State to request that the district court reopen the competency determination and hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter. The court agreed to reassess Parry's competency and ordered further evaluation. Around that time, Parry was finally admitted to the state hospital.

         ¶4 Several mental health experts ultimately examined Parry. Although they all agreed that Parry had some level of mental or intellectual impairment, they rendered diverging opinions regarding his competency. Two experts opined that Parry was incompetent to stand trial with a substantial probability that he may become competent in the foreseeable future. Another expert opined that Parry was incompetent but without a substantial probability of being restored to competency in the near future. Finally, the last expert, Dr. Baldwin, opined that Parry was competent to proceed.

         ¶5 Dr. Baldwin supported her opinion with her observations that, while Parry presented with borderline intellectual functioning and characteristics consistent with a personality disorder, Parry demonstrated strengths in all competence-related areas. Dr. Baldwin further observed that Parry's formal testing and "behavioral/clinical observations are all highly consistent with a malingering presentation." After concluding that Parry was competent to proceed, Dr. Baldwin made recommendations to "maximize [Parry's] functioning in court, " given his intellectual impairment.

         ¶6 Following a two-day competency hearing, the district court found that Dr. Baldwin's report was "complete and well reasoned, " and adopted it "in its entirety, by reference within [the court's] findings." The court further found that Parry "suffers from borderline or low average intellectual functioning which is complicated by learning disabilities." Despite those deficiencies, however, the court found that Parry understood that he was "accused of inappropriate conduct with the alleged victim and that the conduct, if proven, is wrong and could subject him to significant punishment including long term incarceration." The court also found that Parry preferred to be held at the Utah State Hospital rather than at the jail and that, in connection with his "definite view of where he want[ed] to be, " Parry had "manifested a desire to manipulate the outcome of the court proceedings to obtain that desired result." The court further found that Parry had engaged in behaviors to that end, including behaving aggressively and intentionally modifying answers to psychological testing. In addition, the court found that, when at the forensic unit at the hospital, Parry "appeared to exaggerate his lack of knowledge about his legal case and the criminal justice system." The court characterized Parry's behavior as "attempted manipulation."

         ¶7 The district court then turned to the statutory definition of "incompetent to proceed": a defendant is incompetent if he has either (1) the "inability to have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him or of the punishment specified for the offense charged, " or (2) the "inability to consult with his counsel and to participate in the proceedings against him with a reasonable degree of rational understanding." Utah Code Ann. § 77-15-2 (LexisNexis 2012).

         ¶8 As to the first consideration, the district court stated at the hearing that Parry had the "capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings, " knew he was "in a lot of trouble, " and recognized that "the punishment [could] be quite severe." The judge concluded, "I am not able to find that he has a mental condition that prevents him from having a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings or the punishment." The district court's written findings similarly indicate that Parry understood that if convicted, he faced "significant punishment including long term incarceration." The court also found that Parry's "attempted manipulation" demonstrated that he understood "the adversarial nature of criminal court proceedings."

         ¶9 As to the second consideration, which the court viewed as "a tougher question, " the district court explained at the hearing that Parry "de-compensates when he is confronted by stress" and that that decompensation "makes it harder for him to participate."[3] But because "harder does not mean impossible, " the judge concluded, "I don't find to a preponderance that he's incapable of consulting with Counsel or participating . . . in the case." The judge continued: "We will have to make some accommodations to allow that to happen. We will have to go at a different pace. We may have to take . . . extra time, allow for extra procedures. We'll figure it out as we go . . . ." The court's written decision explained that Parry's attempted manipulation of his competency evaluation demonstrated that he "is able to engage in reasoned choices of legal strategy." The court also found that Parry "suffers from some degree of impairment and will be more difficult when confronted with unusual or stressful circumstances" but stated that it was nevertheless satisfied that "if appropriate accommodations are made that [Parry] is capable of communicating with his counsel, engaging in reasoned decisions, maintaining proper affect during court proceedings and giving relevant testimony, if necessary."

         ¶10 The district court ultimately determined that Parry was competent and ordered that the criminal case would proceed. The judge explained at the hearing, "[M]y conclusion is that based upon the evidence that's been presented and the testimony, I find to a preponderance that he is competent to proceed." Similarly, the court's written decision stated, "To a preponderance of the evidence the Court concludes that Mr. Parry is presently competent to proceed." Parry now appeals in accordance with Utah Code section 77-18a-1(1)(c).[4]

         ISSUES AND STANDARDS OF REVIEW

         ¶11 While not challenging the district court's factual findings on appeal, Parry raises three claims of error in its determination that, at the time of its ruling, Parry was competent to proceed. First, Parry contends that the district court "applied the opposite and incorrect standard" regarding the burden of proof. Second, Parry contends that the district court failed to find that he had a rational understanding of the full extent of the possible punishments related to his specific charges and that the court therefore improperly concluded that Parry had "a rational and factual understanding of the punishment he faces." Third, he contends that the court "did not properly conclude that [he could] consult ...


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