Thursday, April 26, 2007

Feigned Mental Illness is Proper Basis for Sentencing Enhancement for Obstruction of Justice

In United States v. Batista, Case No. 05-2949 (3d Cir. April 25, 2007), the district court applied the two-level enhancement of U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1 to the defendant’s offense level for feigning mental illness in an attempt to avoid trial. The defendant had initially negotiated with the government concerning a guilty plea. That negotiation fell through, and he moved for a evaluation of his competency to stand trial. The defendant underwent five separate competency evaluations. The evaluators decided that he was malingering, and the district court found him competent to stand trial. He subsequently pleaded guilty. At sentencing, the government moved for, and the district court granted, the sentencing enhancement for obstruction of justice.

The Third Circuit affirmed. It endorsed the Fifth Circuit’s holding in United States v. Greer, 158 F.3d 228, 237 (5th Cir. 1998), that "[w]hile a criminal defendant possesses a constitutional right to a competency hearing if a bona fide doubt exists as to his competency, he surely does not have the right to create a doubt as to his competency or to increase the chances that he will be found incompetent by feigning mental illness." However, the Third Circuit emphasized that the enhancement "would be appropriate only in cases, like that presented here, where the defendant feigns mental illness." It should not apply "as a matter of course when a defendant requested a competency hearing and was later found competent to stand trial."

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The District Court's indication of the sentence it would impose before the defendant allocuted was not reversible plain error.

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