Today’s daily journal update includes a 3-2 split over a mental responsibility issue. United States v. Mancillas, __ M.J. ___, No. 07-0302/MC (C.A.A.F. Oct. 2, 2007). While the per curiam order isn’t signed, the process of elimination tells us it was joined by Chief Judge Effron, Judge Baker, and Judge Stucky. Judge Ryan, joined by Judge Erdmann, dissented.

Because the decision is a summary disposition, one must read the opinion below to get a real feel for the dispute at NMCCA. United States v. Mancillas, No. NMCCA 200401950 (N-M. Ct. Crim. App. Dec. 18, 2006).

PFC Mancillas has had a long series of mental health evaluations. Here’s a summary:

1. 18 October 2002: Navy psychologist at Camp Pendleton determines he was mentally competent to stand trial and “accountable for his actions.” The psychologist determines Mancillas suffered from a Major Depressive Disorder, that he was responding well to medication, and that “[t]his condition did not render him unable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his conduct at the time of the alleged criminal conduct.”

NMCCA tells us that “[b]ased upon inconsistencies in the 18 October 2002 R.C.M. 706 report, and the fact that a psychiatrist was not involved in the R.C.M. 706 board, the appellant requested and received a second R.C.M. 706 evaluation.” Mancillas, slip op. at 2.

2. 26 November 2002: Division Psychiatrist, 1stMarDiv issues report concluding that: (1) Mancillas did not suffer from a major mood or thought disorder at the time of the offenses; (2) that he had the capacity to “understand his actions at the time of the offenses;” (3) that his then-current state prevented an accurate determination of his competency to stand trial; and (4) Mancillas’s symptoms at that time were “of questionable veracity and may represent malingered mental illness.”

The Division Psychiatrist recommended considering “placing the defendant in a facility where he can be closely observed to more accurately determine competency and whether his symptoms represent a major thought disorder, a decompensated personality disorder, or malingered mental illness to avoid trial.”

3. 24 December 2002: one-member R.C.M. 706 board concludes that Mancillas suffered from a Psychotic Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (DSM IV 298.9) and a Personality Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, with Antisocial and Paranoid Features (DSM IV 301.9), that he did “not have sufficient mental capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings,” and that he was “unable to conduct himself or cooperate intelligently in his defense.”

The board was unable to assess Mancillas’s “mental state” and “mental responsibility” at the time of the alleged offenses. The report’s author “strongly recommend[ed] that PFC Mancillas be admitted to an appropriate inpatient facility for further evaluation and treatment. I further recommend that projective psychological testing be performed to more fully evaluate the presence and/or extent of his psychotic symptoms. Antipsychotic medication may be helpful in restoring his mental capacity.”

4. 27 August 2003: Federal Medical Center, Butner, North Carolina, where Mancillas had been treated for several months, concludes that he “is able to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him and to assist properly in his own defense.”

CAAF’s per curiam summary disposition indicates: “On November 6, 2003, Appellant entered pleas of guilty to certain offenses and was found guilty in accordance with his pleas. No resolution of the apparent issue of Appellant’s mental responsibility appears in the record.”

5. 4 April 2007: A sanity board evaluating Mancillas after NMCCA affirmed his findings and sentence concluded that he was “unable to appreciate and differentiate between right and wrong” at the time of the offenses.”

A majority at CAAF concludes that “it appears there may be an issue relating to Appellant’s mental responsibility at the time of the alleged offenses that has not been fully considered and addressed by the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals.” The majority remands the case to the Navy-Marine Corps Court and orders it to consider the following issues “and such other issues as may be raised by Appellant concerning his mental condition”:

I. WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ERRED BY NOT RESOLVING WHETHER APPELLANT HAD THE MENTAL CAPACITY FOR THE OFFENSES CHARGED PURSUANT TO RULE FOR COURT COURTS-MARTIAL 706.

II. WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION BY DENYING APPELLANT’S REQUEST FOR A MENTAL COMPETENCY HEARING UNDER R.C.M. 706 AND BY FINDING APPELLANT MENTALLY COMPETENT TO STAND TRIAL WITHOUT PROPER DOCUMENTATION.

III. WHETHER THE LOWER COURT ERRED BY FINDING THAT APPELLANT’S TRIAL DEFENSE COUNSEL WAS EFFECTIVE AS SHE DID NOT PLACE ON THE RECORD THE MEDICAL DOCUMENTATION OF COMPETENCY CERTIFICATION AND DID NOT ENSURE THAT APPELLANT WAS MENTALLY COMPETENT AT THE TIME THE OFFENSES WERE COMMITTED

Judge Ryan’s dissent disagrees “with the Court’s characterization of the record.” She writes that the “706 boards were conducted to ensure that [Mancillas] was competent to stand trial.” His “mental responsibility at the time of the offenses was never in question and, to the extent it was reviewed in the course of the R.C.M. 706 boards, the record reflects that . . . the second board concluded ‘that (1) the appellant did not suffer from a major mood or thought disorder at the time of the offenses; (2) that he had the capacity ‘to understand the nature of his actions at the time of the offenses . . . .’ . . . The results were ‘inconclusive’ only with respect to Appellant’s competency to stand trial. And it was that issue that the third board reviewed, and that issue that was fully and finally resolved by the Federal Medical Center. That mental responsibility was never an issue is further confirmed by the fact that Appellant raised only the issue of his competency to stand trial in his initial appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals.” Judge Ryan concludes, “I am not persuaded that a fourth sanity board conducted forty-one months after trial merits further consideration by the Court of Criminal Appeals.”

I hope our many NAMARA readers will keep us informed of this case’s continued progress on remand.

One Response to “CAAF splits over mental responsibility in summary disposition”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Judge Ryan is very kind in her assessment of the majority’s disingenous view of the facts. Did the majority just forget to mention that appellant was held in a mental health facility until he was competent to stand trial? At least the CAAF blog gave a fair rendition. This case, I suppose, will be used as precedent for any appellant to question his guilty pleas years after trial if he can find a shrink willing to say that he didn’t know what he was doing way back when. This is just nuts. Come on CAAF – let’s live in the real world – not some ivory tower (a Harvard, Harvard, Yale majority).