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Felix v. Virgin Islands Government


March 7, 1983



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


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.


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 its language, limited to "crimes against the United States," it does not cover acts which violate only local Virgin Islands law. Inasmuch as murder is proscribed by local law, 14 V.I.C. § 922(a)(1), the court concluded that Section 4244 is not applicable to this case. The district court dismissed the petition, and this appeal followed.


Felix makes three arguments in support of his position that the district court erred in failing to grant his petition for habeas corpus. First, he contends that 18 U.S.C. § 4244 does apply to criminal prosecutions under the Virgin Islands Code. Second, he maintains that the district court erred in rejecting three alleged trial errors as grounds for granting his petition. Third, Felix urges that the evidence he presented to the district court in his petition for habeas corpus demonstrated that he was mentally incompetent at the time of trial.

The district court considered Felix's first two claims -- the applicability of 18 U.S.C. § 4244 and the alleged trial errors*fn3 -- and rejected them on the merits. These issues were not raised at trial or on the direct appeal, however, and therefore we may not reach their merits here. The Supreme Court has recently held that "to obtain collateral relief based on trial errors to which no contemporaneous objection was made, a convicted defendant must show both (1) "cause" excusing his double procedural default, and (2) "actual prejudice" resulting from the errors of which he complains." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 102 S. Ct. 1584, 71 L. Ed. 2d 816, 50 U.S.L.W. 4388, 4392 (1982). Because Felix made no attempt to show that he could satisfy the "cause" and "actual prejudice" requirements, he may not now obtain collateral review of these claims.*fn4 Since the district court denied the petition, we will affirm its judgment on these issues, although we do so on the basis of Frady, rather than on the merits.See Bernitsky v. United States, 620 F.2d 948, 950 (3d Cir. 1980) (the court of appeals is "free to affirm the judgment of the district court on any basis which finds support in the record").

Felix's final contention is that the district court erred in determining that he was competent to stand trial. In our first opinion in this case, we upheld the trial court's ruling on competency to stand trial, but stated that our decision was "without prejudice" to a petition for habeas corpus that provided new evidence "on the issue of Feliompetence or mental capacity at thetime of the shooting or at trial." In his petition for habeas corpus, Felix presented the district court with summaries of three psychiatric evaluations made during his incarceration. These reports do not directly address the issue of Felix's mental capacity or competence at the times in question, other than one cryptic reference to the possibility that Felix was intoxicated when he committed the crime. We agree with the district court that these summaries are insufficient to justify a competency hearing at this time.


The judgment of the district court will be affirmed.

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