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United States v. Shovlin

decided: July 31, 1972.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. JAMES A. STUKES, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN P. SHOVLIN, SUPERINTENDENT



Van Dusen, Gibbons and James Rosen, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen

Opinion OF THE COURT

VAN DUSEN, Circuit Judge.

On this appeal, defendant, James A. Stukes, challenges the district court denial of his request for habeas corpus relief. United States ex rel. Stukes v. Shovlin, 329 F. Supp. 911 (E.D.Pa.1971). In the district court defendant attacked his state court conviction of first degree murder which arose out of the death of Lena Alexandroff. Mrs. Alexandroff's death was the consequence of a beating inflicted during the course of a robbery in which decedent, her 44-year old daughter, Natalie Tuchar, and her 14-year old granddaughter, Paula Tuchar, were beaten and raped.*fn1 Defendant was tried separately from two co-defendants, who were also charged with first degree murder.

After a careful review of the lengthy record and a thorough reading of the extensive briefs filed by counsel, we find the grounds of alleged error presented on this appeal to be without merit and affirm the district court's opinion and order of June 7, 1971. We find that the following four alleged errors were adequately dealt with in the opinions of the district court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and thus require no further discussion by this court,*fn2 see United States ex rel. Stukes v. Shovlin, 329 F. Supp. 911 (E.D.Pa.1971); Commonwealth v. Stukes, 435 Pa. 535, 257 A.2d 828 (1969):

1. The refusal of the trial judge to allow additional examination of the qualifications of medical witnesses who testified as to defendant's competency to stand trial. See 329 F. Supp. at 914; 257 A.2d at 831.

2. Contention that it was reversible error to require defendant to stand trial when he was drugged before and during his trial. See 329 F. Supp. at 914-915; 257 A.2d at 832.

3. The Commonwealth failed to meet its burden of proof in light of the changed testimony of crucial witnesses. See 329 F. Supp. at 919; 257 A.2d at 834; and note 12 below.

4. There was a purposeful disregard of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure requiring notice to counsel of court orders. See 257 A.2d at 831, 834-835.

In addition, we reject these contentions of defendant for the following reasons:

I. Right To Counsel

Defendant contends that he was denied the right to effective assistance of counsel at a critical stage in the proceedings against him, namely, at a pretrial ex parte psychiatric examination ordered by the state court.*fn3 We agree with the well-reasoned analysis of this issue by the district court, which concluded that the psychiatric examination was not a "critical stage" of the proceedings, in the constitutional sense, requiring the presence of counsel.*fn4 329 F. Supp. at 913.

A related issue raised by defendant on this appeal is that the failure to notify defense counsel of the psychiatric examination, and the mental condition which precipitated it, denied defendant the effective assistance of counsel. Defendant contends that the absence of counsel at the examination and the failure to give notice adversely affected his ability to proceed with his lack of competency claim and thus denied him the effective assistance of counsel and a fair trial.*fn5

An examination of the record indicates that the psychiatric examination in question was conducted upon the order of the Court of Quarters Sessions, Psychiatric Division, to determine defendant's competency to stand trial. The question of defendant's competency was first raised by the prison psychiatrist, who treated him for a "severe anxiety reaction" and notified the Psychiatric Division of the Department of Probation of the condition, recommending further examination. As a result, the court ordered an examination, the results of which indicated that defendant was competent to stand trial. The examination was competely ex parte without notice to or knowledge of it by either defense counsel or the prosecution. Under the ...


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