PATE, WARDEN v. ROBINSON.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT.
Respondent was convicted in 1959 of murdering his common-law wife and given a life sentence. It was conceded at trial that he had shot and killed her but counsel claimed that respondent was insane at the time of the incident and also not competent to stand trial. It was uncontradicted that respondent had a long history of disturbed behavior, had been confined as a psychopathic patient, and had committed acts of violence including the killing of his infant son and an attempted suicide. Four defense witnesses testified that respondent was insane. The trial court declined rebuttal medical testimony as to respondent’s sanity, deeming sufficient a stipulation that a doctor would testify that when respondent was examined a few months before trial he knew the nature of the charges and could cooperate with his counsel. The trial court’s rejection of contentions as to respondent’s sanity was challenged on appeal as a deprivation of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. The State Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on the grounds that no hearing on mental capacity to stand trial had been requested and that the evidence was insufficient to require the trial court to conduct a sanity hearing sua sponte or to raise a “reasonable doubt” as to respondent’s sanity at the time of the homicide. This Court denied certiorari. The District Court denied respondent’s subsequently filed petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the unduly hurried trial did not provide a fair opportunity for development of facts on the insanity issues and remanded the case to the District Court for a limited hearing as to the sanity of respondent at the time of the homicide and as to whether he was constitutionally entitled to a hearing upon his competence to stand trial. Held:
1. The evidence raised a sufficient doubt as to respondent’s competence to stand trial so that respondent was deprived of due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by the trial court’s failure to afford him a hearing on that issue. Pp. 378-386.
(a) The conviction of a
legally incompetent defendant violates due process. Bishop v.
(b) The record shows that respondent did not waive the defense of incompetence to stand trial. P. 384.
(c) In view of evidence raising a doubt on the competence issue, the court was required to impanel a jury and conduct a sanity hearing and could not rely in lieu thereof on respondent’s demeanor at trial or on the stipulated medical testimony. Pp. 385-386.
2. In view of the difficulty of retrospectively determining the issue of an accused’s competence to stand trial (particularly where, as here, the time lapse is over six years), a hearing limited to that issue will not suffice; respondent must therefore be discharged unless the State gives him a new trial within a reasonable time. P. 387.
345 F.2d 691, affirmed in part and remanded.
Richard A. Michael, Assistant Attorney General of
John C. Tucker argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Albert E. Jenner, Jr.
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
In 1959 respondent Robinson was convicted of the murder of his common-law
wife, Flossie May Ward, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. Being an
indigent he was defended by court-appointed counsel. It was conceded at trial
that Robinson shot and killed Flossie May, but his counsel claimed that he was
insane at the time of the shooting and raised the issue of his incompetence to
stand trial. On writ of error to the Supreme Court of Illinois it was asserted
that the trial court’s rejection of these contentions deprived Robinson of due
process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment. His conviction was affirmed, the
court finding that no hearing on mental capacity to stand trial had been
requested, that the evidence failed to raise sufficient doubt as to his
competence to require the trial court to [383 U.S. 375, 377] conduct a hearing on its own motion, and
further that the evidence did not raise a “reasonable doubt” as to his sanity
at the time of the offense. 22
The State concedes that the conviction of an accused person while he is
legally incompetent violates due process, Bishop v.
The uncontradicted testimony of four witnesses 2 called by the defense revealed that Robinson had
a long history of disturbed behavior. His mother testified that when he was
between seven and eight years of age a brick dropped from a third floor hit
Robinson on the head. “He blacked out and the blood run from his head like a
faucet.” Thereafter “he acted a little peculiar.” The blow knocked him
“cockeyed” and his mother took him to a specialist “to correct the crossness of
his eyes.” He also suffered headaches during his childhood, apparently stemming
from the same event. His conduct became [383
“The reason for admission: The
patient was admitted to this hospital on the 5th day of June, 1952, [383
. . . . .
“Was drinking and went to the
. . . . .
“He went through an acute toxic episode from which he has some insight. He had been drinking heavily. I am wondering possibly he isn’t schizophrenic. I think he has recovered from this condition. I have seen the wife and she is in a pathetic state. I have no objection to giving him a try.”
After his release from the state hospital Robinson’s
irrational episodes became more serious. His grandfather testified that while
Robinson was working with him as a painter’s assistant, “all at once, he would
come down [from the ladder] and walk on out and never say where he is going and
whatnot and he would be out two or three hours, and at times he would be in a
daze and when he comes out, he comes back just as fresh. He just [383
In 1953 Robinson, then separated from his wife, brought their 18-month-old
son to Mrs. Calhoun’s home and asked permission to stay there for a couple of
days. She observed that he was highly nervous, prancing about and staring
wildly. While she was at work the next day Robinson shot and killed his son and
attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head. It appeared that after
Robinson shot his son, he went to a nearby park and tried to take his life
again by jumping into a lagoon. By his mother’s description, he “was wandering
around” the park, and walked up to a policeman and “asked him for a cigarette.”
It was stipulated that he went to the South Park Station on
Robinson served almost four years in prison for killing his son, being
released in September 1956. A few months thereafter he began to live with
Flossie May Ward at her home. In the summer of 1957 or 1958 Robinson “jumped
on” his mother’s brother-in-law and “beat him up terrible.” She went to the
police station and swore out a warrant for his arrest. She described his
abnormalities and told the officers that Robinson “seemed to have a disturbed
mind.” She asked the police “to pick him up so I can have him put away.” Later
she went [383
The killing occurred about p. m. at a small barbecue house where Flossie May Ward worked. At that time there were 10 customers in the restaurant, six of them sitting at the counter. It appears from the record that Robinson entered the restaurant with a gun in his hand. As he approached the counter, Flossie May said, “Don’t start nothing tonight.” After staring at her for about a minute, he walked to the rear of the room and, with the use of his hand, leaped over the counter. He then rushed back toward the front of the restaurant, past two other employees working behind the counter, and fired once or twice at Flossie May. She jumped over the counter and ran out the front door with Robinson in pursuit. She was found dead on the sidewalk. 3 Robinson never spoke a word during the three-to-four-minute episode.
Subsequently Robinson went to the apartment of a friend, Mr. Moore, who
summoned the police. When three officers, two in uniform, arrived, Robinson was
standing in the hall approximately half way between the elevator and the
apartment. Unaware of his identity, the officers walked past him and went to
the door of the apartment. Mrs. Moore answered the door and told them that
Robinson had left a short time earlier. As the officers turned around they saw
Robinson still standing where they had first observed him. Robinson made no
attempt to avoid being arrested. When asked his address [383
Four defense witnesses expressed the opinion that Robinson was insane. 5 In rebuttal the State introduced only a
stipulation that Dr. William H. Haines, Director of the Behavior Clinic of the
Criminal Court of Cook County would, if present, testify that in his opinion
Robinson knew the nature of the charges against him and was able to cooperate
with counsel when he examined him two or three months before trial. However,
since the stipulation did not include a finding of sanity the prosecutor
advised the court that “we should have [383
The State insists that Robinson deliberately waived the defense of his
competence to stand trial by failing to demand a sanity hearing as provided by
We believe that the evidence introduced on Robinson’s behalf entitled him to
a hearing on this issue. The court’s failure to make such inquiry thus deprived
Robinson of his constitutional right to a fair trial. 7 See Thomas v. Cunningham, 313 F.2d 934 (C. A. 4th
Having determined that Robinson’s constitutional rights were abridged by his
failure to receive an adequate hearing on his competence to stand trial, we
direct that the writ of habeas corpus must issue and Robinson be discharged,
unless the State gives him a new trial within a reasonable time. This
disposition accords with the procedure adopted in
If the State elects to retry Robinson, it will of course be open to him to raise the question of his competence to stand trial at that time and to request a special hearing thereon. In the event a sufficient doubt exists as to his present competence such a hearing must be held. If found competent to stand trial, Robinson would have the usual defenses available to an accused.
The case is remanded to the District Court for action consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
[ Footnote 1 ] Nor do we pass on the contention that Robinson was denied his Sixth Amendment rights by the trial judge’s refusal to issue summonses for material witnesses.
[ Footnote 2 ] These witnesses were Miss Willie Ceola Peterson, Robinson’s mother; Mr. William H. Langham, his grandfather; Mrs. Helen Calhoun, his aunt; and Mrs. Alice Moore, a family friend.
[ Footnote 3 ] The Reverend Elmer Clemons was also shot and killed in the fracas. The indictment covering that offense was dismissed at the close of the trial in question.
[ Footnote 4 ] According to the testimony of an arresting
officer the following exchange took place: “I asked him what his name was and
he said, ‘My name is Ted.’ I said, ‘What is your real name?’ And he said,
‘Theodore Robinson.’ Then I asked him - I told him he was under arrest and he
said, ‘For what?’ I said, ‘Well, you are supposed to be wanted for killing two
people on the south side.’ I asked him did he know anything about it. He said,
‘No, I don’t know what you are talking about.’ So then I asked him where he
lived and he said, ‘I don’t live no place.’ “I said, ‘What do you mean you
don’t live no place?’ He said, ‘That’s what I said.’ “So then pretty soon asked
him again and he said, ‘Sometimes I stay with my mother.’ And I said, ‘Where
does she live?’ He said, ‘Some address on
[ Footnote 5 ] His mother stated: “I think he is insane.” Mrs. Calhoun testified as follows: “Q. Do you have an opinion as to whether or not presently he is sane or insane? “A. He is sick. He is insane. “Q. First of all, do you have an opinion? “A. Yes. “Q. What is your opinion as to his present sanity? . . . “A. He is mentally sick.”
[ Footnote 6 ] Although defense counsel phrased his questions and argument in terms of Robinson’s present insanity, we interpret his language as [383 U.S. 375, 385] necessarily placing in issue the question of Robinson’s mental competence to stand trial. Counsel was simply borrowing the terminology of the relevant Illinois statutes and decisions. The state law in effect at the time of Robinson’s trial differentiated between lack of criminal responsibility and competence to stand trial, but used “insanity” to describe both concepts. Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 38, 592, 593 (1963). The judges likewise phrased their decisions only in terms of sanity and insanity. See, e. g., People v. Baker, 26 Ill. 2d 484, 187 N. E. 2d 227 (1962). The statutory provisions and terminology in this field have now been clarified by the enactment of an article dealing with the “competency of accused.” Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 38, 104-1 to 104-3 (1963), as amended by the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1963. Even if counsel may also have meant to refer to the statutory provisions dealing with commitment for present insanity, Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 38, 592 (1963), this fact would not affect the determination that counsel’s words raised a question as to competence that the trial judge should have considered.
[ Footnote 7 ] Moreover, as the Court of Appeals stressed, the trial judge did not give Robinson an opportunity to introduce expert testimony on the question of his sanity. The judge denied counsel’s request for a continuance of several hours in order to secure the appearance of a psychiatrist from the Illinois Psychiatric Institute.
[ Footnote 8 ] As defense counsel insisted in his closing argument: “In this case, which is a very serious case, the defendant has been able to cooperate with counsel with some reservations. . . . However, I do not feel that this present . . . lucidity bears on the issue of his sanity at the time of the crime and his sanity at the present time. I think the words sanity and insanity, the words are legal terms. I think that presently Mr. Theodore Robinson is in a lucid interval. I believe that from the witness stand you have heard testimony to indicate and prove that Mr. Theodore Robinson is presently insane. . . .”
MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, whom MR. JUSTICE BLACK joins, dissenting.
The facts now canvassed by this Court to support its constitutional holding were fully sifted by the Illinois Supreme Court. I cannot agree that the state court’s unanimous appraisal was erroneous and still less that it was error of constitutional proportions. [383 U.S. 375, 388]
The Court appears to hold that a defendant’s present incompetence may become sufficiently manifest during a trial that it denies him due process for the trial court to fail to conduct a hearing on that question on its own initiative. I do not dissent from this very general proposition, and I agree also that such an error is not “waived” by failure to raise it and that it may entitle the defendant to a new trial without further proof. Waiver is not an apposite concept where we premise a defendant so deranged that he cannot oversee his lawyers. Since our further premise is that the trial judge should and could have avoided the error, a new trial seems not too drastic an exaction in view of the proof problems arising after a significant lapse of time. 1 However, I do not believe the facts known to the trial judge in this case suggested Robinson’s incompetence at time of trial with anything like the force necessary to make out a violation of due process in the failure to pursue the question.
Before turning to the facts, it is pertinent to consider the quality of the incompetence they are supposed to indicate. In federal courts - and I assume no more is asked of state courts - the test of incompetence that warrants postponing the trial is reasonably well settled. In language this Court adopted on the one occasion it faced the issue, “the ‘test must be whether . . . [the defendant] has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding - and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.’” Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 . In short, emphasis is on capacity to consult with counsel and to comprehend the proceedings, [383 U.S. 375, 389] and lower courts have recognized that this is by no means the same test as those which determine criminal responsibility at the time of the crime. 2 The question, then, is not whether the facts before the trial judge suggested that Robinson’s crime was an insane act but whether they suggested he was incompetent to stand trial.
The Court’s affirmative answer seemingly rests on two kinds of evidence, principally adduced by Robinson to prove an insanity defense after the State rested its main case. First, there was evidence of a number of episodes of severe irrationality in Robinson’s past. Among them were the slaying of his infant son, his attempted suicide, his efforts to burn his wife’s clothing, his fits of temper and of abstraction, and his seven-week incarceration in a state hospital eight years before the trial. This evidence may be tempered by the State’s counterarguments, for example, that Robinson was found guilty of his son’s killing and that alcoholism may explain his hospitalization, but it cannot be written off entirely. The difficulty remains that while this testimony may suggest that Flossie May Ward’s killing was just one more irrational act, I cannot say as a matter of common knowledge that it evidences incapacity during the trial. Indeed, the pattern revealed may best indicate that Robinson did function adequately during most of his life interrupted by periods of severe derangement that would have been quite apparent had they occurred at trial. The second class of data pertinent to the Court’s theory, remarks by witnesses and counsel that Robinson was “presently insane,” deserves little comment. I think it apparent that these statements were addressed to Robinson’s responsibility [383 U.S. 375, 390] for the killing, that is, his ability to do insane acts, and not to his general competency to stand trial. 3
Whatever mild doubts this evidence may stir are surely allayed by positive indications of Robinson’s competence at the trial. Foremost is his own behavior in the courtroom. The record reveals colloquies between Robinson and the trial judge which undoubtedly permitted a reasonable inference that Robinson was quite cognizant of the proceedings and able to assist counsel in his defense. 4 Turning from lay impressions to those of an expert, it was stipulated at trial that a Dr. Haines, Director of the Behavior Clinic of the Criminal Court of Cook County, had examined Robinson several months earlier and, if called, would testify that Robinson “knows [383 U.S. 375, 391] the nature of the charge and is able to cooperate with his counsel.” The conclusive factor is that Robinson’s own lawyers, the two men who apparently had the closest contact with the defendant during the proceedings, never suggested he was incompetent to stand trial and never moved to have him examined on incompetency grounds during trial; 5 indeed, counsel’s remarks to the jury seem best read as an affirmation of Robinson’s present “lucidity” which would be highly peculiar if Robinson had been unable to assist properly in his defense. See p. 386, n. 8, ante, of the Court’s opinion.
Thus, I cannot agree with the Court that the requirements of due process were violated by the failure of the trial judge, who had opportunities for personal observation of the defendant that we do not possess, to halt the trial and hold a competency hearing on his own motion.
Several other grounds have been urged as a basis for habeas corpus relief for Robinson. These other grounds are understandably not discussed in the Court’s opinion, and I think it is sufficient for me to say I do not believe that they warrant further proceedings. In my view, the Court of Appeals should be reversed and the District Court’s dismissal of the petition reinstated.
[ Footnote 1 ] The constitutional violation alleged is the failure to make an inquiry. In the more usual case, the simple claim that a defendant was convicted while incompetent during the trial, there is of course no proof of a constitutional violation until that incompetence is established in appropriate proceedings.
[ Footnote 2 ] See James v. Boles, 339 F.2d 431; United States v. Kendrick, 331 F.2d 110; Lyles v. United States, 103 U.S. App. D.C. 22, 254 F.2d 725.
[ Footnote 3 ] At the time Robinson’s mother and Mrs. Calhoun made the statements noted in the Court’s opinion, p. 383, n. 5, ante, they also stated Robinson did not know the difference between right and wrong. Counsel’s statement, too, quoted by the Court at p. 386, n. 8, ante, was directed to acquittal, not postponement. See, n. 5, infra, Mrs. Moore, a family friend, responded to the question on Robinson’s sanity by saying: “When he is in those moods, I think he is insane; when he is in those moods, because he is terrible.”
[ Footnote 4 ] The Illinois Supreme Court stated in its opinion: “[T]he record reflects several instances where defendant displayed his ability to assist in the conduct of his defense in a reasonable and rational manner. Typical instances of when defendant displayed mental alertness, as well as understanding and knowledge of the proceeding, appear in his remarks to the court as follows: ‘Your honor, they were on the State’s witness list and the State said they have several witnesses. They produced two. For what reason, I don’t know, but I am on trial here and I would like to be given every consideration, and I would like that the court be adjourned until tomorrow morning - to give me time to confer with counsel for the calling of witnesses.’ Again, when discussing witnesses with the court, defendant said: ‘Well, the police are contending that the clothes they have found in Moore’s apartment was mine. That is the reason at the beginning of trial, I asked the attorney to have a pre-trial preliminary to determine the admissibility and validity of the evidence that the State was intending to use against me.’” 22 Ill. 2d, at 168, 174 N. E. 2d, at 823.
[ Footnote 5 ] The record in my view does not bear out any suggestion that Robinson’s counsel apprised the trial judge that he believed Robinson incompetent to stand trial, even granting that “insane” was a synonym for “incompetent” under then-existing state law (pp. 384-385, n. 6, ante). Under Illinois law, as one would naturally expect, incompetence at the time of trial has been a ground not for acquitting the defendant but for postponing his trial; and nowhere in the record does Robinson’s counsel even hint to the judge that he believes the trial should be deferred or abated because his client is not fit to continue. The ready explanation for counsel’s references to “present insanity,” apart from emphasizing Robinson’s general lack of criminal responsibility, is that Illinois law provided that one acquitted on grounds of insanity at the time of the crime shall by the same verdict be found cured of or still afflicted with “such insanity” and committed in the latter instance. Ill. Rev. Stat., c. 38, 592 (1959). [383 U.S. 375, 392]
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