Criminal (Competency Hearing): CARNEAL V. COM. (COA; 5/26/2006)

CRIMINAL – Competency Hearing (Paducah High School Shooter Case)
DATE:  5/26/2006

This appeal involved Michael Carneal who was convicted in the Paducah high school shooting.  He moved for relief from his judgment on the ground that his schizophrenia rendered him incompetent to plead guilty.

Under RCr 11.42 he seeks relief from his judgment on the ground that his guilty plea was invalid both because he was incompetent to enter it and because counsel was ineffective in recommending it. Under CR 60.02 (f) he seeks relief from his judgment on the ground that the belated discovery of his insanity constitutes an extraordinary justification for relief.

Minority and mental incompetence, are common grounds for tolling limitations periods, and RCr 11.42 itself gives no indication that its limitations period is meant to be an exception.  Juvenile judgments are final for the purposes of appeal at the time the juvenile is initially sentenced and that RCr 11.42 indicates that the limitations period runs from the entry of the final judgment. A juvenile’s trial counsel, however, often, as in this case, remains counsel until final sentencing when the child turns eighteen.

Because many, if not most, RCr 11.42 claims are predicated on trial counsel’s alleged ineffectiveness, it would be unfair to begin the limitations clock before the juvenile was legally competent to seek independent advice concerning trial counsel’s performance.

According to the trial court, the limitations period expired in December 2001, and Carneal’s June 2004 motion was clearly too late.  COA agreed with Carneal that the limitations period should be deemed tolled during both his minority and his mental incompetence.

COA was convinced, therefore, that Carneal has presented sufficient facts to create a real and substantial doubt about his competence to plead guilty.

This used to be enough to entitle a movant to relief, but our Supreme Court has recently held that before relief can be granted it must first be determined that a retrospective competency determination is not feasible.  Although retrospective competency hearings are not favored, our Supreme Court has noted, they are permissible in some circumstances, and it is the trial court that must determine in the first instance whether those circumstances obtain.

The test to be applied “is whether the quantity and quality of [presently] available evidence is adequate to arrive at a [retrospective] assessment that could be labeled as more than mere speculation.”

Accordingly, order is vacated and case remanded  to determine whether a retrospective competency hearing is permissible and, if so, to conduct such a hearing.

If a retrospective competency determination is not feasible, or if it is determined at the hearing that Carneal was not competent to enter his guilty plea, then he shall be permitted to withdraw the plea and, if competent to do so, either plead again, or proceed to trial.

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