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United States v. Mendez

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

September 19, 2017



          Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the court after hearings on an Amended Petition for an Offender Under Supervision (“Amended Petition”), Filing No. 92, and on the defendant's oral motion for a provisional sentence and commitment to a suitable facility under 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d).

         I. BACKGROUND

         The defendant had appeared before the undersigned on June 29, 2017, and admitted to Allegation No. 3 of the Amended Petition-a violation of Special Condition #4 which states, “[t]he defendant shall attend, pay for and successfully complete and diagnostic evaluations, treatment or counseling programs, or approved support groups (e.g. AA/NA) for alcohol and/or controlled substance abuse, as directed by the probation officer.” Filing No. 99, Minute entry. At that hearing, the parties discussed the need for a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant and the hearing was continued in order to obtain an evaluation. Id.

         On September 13, 2017, the defendant appeared before the undersigned and again admitted to Allegation No. 3 of the Amended Petition. The court found the defendant competent to enter that admission, found the admission was free and voluntarily, and accordingly, accepted the admission. Before sentencing, the defendant orally moved for a provisional sentence under 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d).

         Matthew Huss, a forensic psychologist, conducted a psychiatric evaluation of the defendant and submitted a Forensic Evaluation to the court. He found Mendez met the criteria for schizoaffective disorder-bipolar type and antisocial personality disorder. In addition, he found Mendez met criteria for stimulant use disorder, severe, and alcohol use disorder severe by history. In the report, Dr. Huss found Mendez presented a high risk of violence toward others given his near universal endorsement of the most relevant historical, clinical and future risk factors, but noted the risk could be better managed with treatment for his mental illness.

         The defendant has a history of threatening behavior and attempts to harm himself and others. He also has a clear history of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. He was placed on suicide watch numerous times while in prison and admitted to recent self-injurious behavior in that he repeatedly hit his head on the wall while in custody for the present violation. In his report, Dr. Huss concluded, based on the results of testing and the defendant's behavior during the current incarceration, that the defendant is at moderate risk for self-injurious behavior for two to three months, until his medication takes full effect.

         While in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons on his underlying offense, the defendant had a number of mental health issues, from auditory hallucinations and frequent laughing to diagnoses of depression, adjustment disorder and bipolar disorder. Dr. Huss assessed the defendant in two interviews. He also administered several objective tests, one of which indicated Mendez was not exaggerating his mental health symptoms during the second interview.

         Dr. Huss concluded that, although the test results suggested some level of exaggeration, any exaggeration or malingering appears to diminish with improvement in Mendez's mental health symptoms. Dr. Huss also evaluated the defendant's competency and concluded that overall Mendez was competent to stand trial under federal standards.[1]

         At the hearing, Dr. Huss testified that he believed Mendez needs inpatient treatment for several months. He explained that Mendez's diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder meant that Mendez has some schizophrenic or psychotic-like symptoms and also some affective or mood-disorder symptoms. With respect to the psychotic part, Mendez suffers from hallucinations, delusions and disordered thinking. Dr. Huss testified those symptoms could be treated with medication, but it would take eight to ten weeks on the proper medication to get Mendez clinically stable enough to treat. After treatment, Mendez would need a supportive living arrangement and continued supervision. He testified Mendez was an especially challenging case because his mental health symptoms contribute to the substance abuse, he has exaggerated his symptoms in the past and is likely to do so in the future, and he has some antisocial tendencies once he is properly medicated.

         II. Law

         Federal law provides for hospitalization of a convicted person suffering from a mental disease or defect. 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d). “Under 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d), a defendant with a mental disease or defect may receive a provisional sentence and be committed for treatment prior to his final sentencing and incarceration.” United States v. Smith, 464 F.App'x 179, 181 (4th Cir. 2012). The current framework of 18 U.S.C. § 4244 “helps to meet several governmental interests that are distinct from questions of competency, namely, ‘the governmental interests in: (1) protecting mentally ill prisoners who might be at substantial risk if placed in the general prison population; (2) ensuring the safety of other inmates; and (3) providing humanitarian treatment for mentally ill inmates.'” United States v. Jensen, 639 F.3d 802, 805-06 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting United States v. Abou-Kassem, 78 F.3d 161, 165 (5th Cir. 1996)). Under § 4244(d), if, after a hearing, “the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence at the hearing that the defendant is suffering from ‘a mental disease or defect and that he should, in lieu of being sentenced to imprisonment, be committed to a suitable facility, ' the court is to impose a ‘provisional sentence . . . to the maximum term authorized by law for the offense for which the defendant was found guilty.'”[2] Jensen, 639 F.3d 802, 805 (8th Cir. 2011) (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d)). The court is instructed to commit the defendant to the custody of the Attorney General. 18 U.S.C. § 4244(d).The Attorney General is then to “hospitalize the defendant for care or treatment in a suitable facility.” Id.

         “If, at a later date, the director of a facility to which a defendant is provisionally sentenced certifies that the defendant no longer suffers from the mental disease or defect, then the defendant may proceed to final sentencing.” Jensen, 639 F.3d at 805 (citing 18 U.S.C. ยง 4244(e)). At that time, if the provisional sentence imposed under subsection (d) has not expired, ...

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