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Felix v. Virgin Islands Government

March 7, 1983

CHARLES M. FELIX, APPELLANT,
v.
VIRGIN ISLANDS GOVERNMENT



ON APPEAL FROM THE JUDGMENT OF THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS C.A. No. 80-365

Before: SEITZ, Chief Judge, ADAMS and WEIS, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

Per Curiam.

Charles Felix, the petitioner, was found guilty in 1977 of first degree murder, and his conviction was affirmed by this court.*fn1 After he had commenced serving his prison sentence, Felix petitioned the district court for a writ of habeas corpus contending that he had been incompetent to stand trial, that several errors had been committed his trial, and that the conditions of his confinement constituted cruel and unusual punishment. The court denied the petition and this appeal was timely filed. For the reasons set forth below, we reject Felix's challenges to his conviction set forth in his habeas petition and will affirm the judgment of the district court.

A.

The facts relevant to the central issues of this appeal were set forth in our first opinion in this case:

Felix, who was employed as a Corrections Officer by the Department of Public Safety of the Virgin Islands, shot Thomas Industrious on December 24, 1976, and Industrious died shortly thereafter. Felix was charged on December 28, 1976, in a one-count information with first degree murder.

After Felix entered a plea of not guilty, the United States Attorney, on February 24, 1977, filed a motion for a psychiatric examination of the defendant. Felix's counsel, at the request of his client, opposed the motion. The court, treating the motion as directed soley at the question whether the defendant was competent to stand trial, held a hearing on March 3, 1977. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court declared that ". . . this hearing clearly established to my mind that the defendant is competent to stand trial . . ."*fn2

Trial took place from March 7 to March 10, 1977. At its conclusion, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. [The district court then imposed the mandatory sentence for first degree murder -- life imprisonment without possibility of parole.] After Felix was sentenced, the defense counsel movoed for a new trial and sought a directive that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination. The trial judge denied the new trial motion, but directed the Commissioner of Public Safety to refer the defendant to the Commissioner of Health or his representative for observation and testing in the correctional facility where he was incarcerated.

569 F.2d 1274, 1275-76 (3d Cir. 1979) (one footnote omitted).

In his first appeal to this Court, Felix questioned the voir dire, the admission of certain evidence at trial, the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain his conviction, and the district judge's denial of the government's motion for a psychiatric evaluation. We rejected all four of these arguments and affirmed the conviction. Iin considering the competency issue, we concluded that on the record before the district court, it was not error for the trial judge to refuse to order a psychiatric evaluation, but stated that

Our conclusion should not be taken as a final ruling on the issue of Feliompetence of mental capacity at the time of the shooting or at trial -- for we are only called on to pass upon the actions of the district court, in which we find no error, and the record before us includes no evidence regarding the results of the examination of Felixin prison. Thus,our decision is without prejudice to the defense to seek habeas relief in the event that evidence of mental incompetency arises from any such examination.

569 F.2d at 1282 n.23.

Felix filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court on October 15, 1980. On June 1, 1981, counsel was appointed to represent Felix, and an amended petition for habeas corpus was then filed. Once again it was argued that Felix had been incompetent to stand drial and that under 18 U.S.C. § 4244 the district court was required to order him to under go a psychiatric evaluation.*fn2a The court's failure to insist upon this evaluation was claimed to be reversible error, notwithstanding Felix's own opposition to a psychiatric evaluation at the time of trial. The potential applicability of the statute had not been raised at the original trial or on the direct appeal. The district court rejected the claims of trial error and cruel and unusual punishment. As to the competency claims, the district judge directed the petitioner to submit further evidence of his mental incapacity at the time of the crime and of his incompetence to stand trial. After reviewing the additional evidence proffered and the brief submitted by both sides, the district court ruled that the psychiatric reports presented by Felix did not show that he had been mentally incompetent at the time of trial; the court made no reference to Feflix's mental capacity at the time of the shooting. The court also ruled that since 18 U.S.C. § 4244 is, by ...


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