Motion to suppress, competency, and failure to preserve error: SMITH V. COMMONWEALTH (COA 1/11/2008)

CRIMINAL:   Competency motions and failure to preserve for appeal (motion to suppress)
DATE RENDERED: 01/11/2008

COA affirmed conviction following Martin Dewayne Smith’s appeal from a judgment following his conditional guilty plea to criminal attempt to commit kidnapping and tampering with physical evidence.

Smith had been identified per a "Crime Stoppers" tip as the assailant who accosted the woman in the parking lot. After being arrested on an unrelated warrant and during questioning, Smith allegedly told police that he grabbed the victim and may have killed or harmed her if he had not been stopped. He further stated that he had fled the scene and disposed of his hat and coat to avoid detection after his crime.

At the suppression hearing, the court ordered that Smith be evaluated for his competency to stand trial and for his mental capacity (sanity) to commit the charged crimes. It was clear that the trial court did not order the psychiatric examination due to a belief that Smith’s competency to stand trial or sanity at the time of the offense were in doubt. Rather, the trial court’s order provided that the order was based on Smith’s request for an examination.  Smith’s counsel then withdrew the motion for an examination and stated that Smith had a clear understanding of the proceedings and was competent to stand trial. Smith’s counsel further stated that the conditional guilty plea reserved Smith’s right to appeal the court’s pre-trial ruling on his suppression motion. Notwithstanding this reservation, the trial court never ruled on the motion to suppress his statements to police.

Because our precedents have clearly established that a failure to obtain a ruling from a trial court operates as a waiver of the issue for purposes of appellate review, the COA concluded that the merits of Smith’s suppression motion regarding the voluntariness of his statements were not preserved for review.

Although Smith had previously put forth an allegation that he was incompetent, there was sufficient evidence that demonstrated that he possessed the capacity to appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and could participate rationally in his own defense. At the hearing, the trial court and Smith engaged in a lengthy colloquy regarding his criminal case. From this colloquy, Smith’s representations did not present the court with a reasonable doubt of his mental competency to plead guilty. The trial court’s decision not to conduct an evidentiary hearing regarding Smith’s competency to enter a guilty plea was not palpable error. The trial court had ample evidence of Smith’s competency to accept his guilty plea.

Finally, the defendant has the burden to prove insanity if he is to receive the benefit of the defense at trial. However, when a defendant pleads guilty to an offense, he waives this defense.

Although Smith did request a psychiatric examination regarding his mental capacity to commit an offense, he withdrew this motion and never insisted on nor obtained a ruling as to his mental condition at the time of the commission of his crimes.

Therefore, because he pled guilty without preserving this issue for review, Smith has waived his insanity and intoxication defenses for purposes of appellate review.  Affirmed.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are inappropriate, offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.