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United States v. Rodriguez

September 8, 2009

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
VEIMER RODRIGUEZ



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Legrome D. Davis, J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the issue of Defendant Veimer Rodriguez's competency to stand trial. Following a hearing conducted to determine Defendant Veimer Rodriguez's competency to stand trial and upon consideration of Defendant Veimer Rodriguez's Memorandum in Support of Position that Defendant Rodriguez is Incompetent to Stand Trial (Doc. No. 75) and the Government's Memorandum in Support of a Finding of Mental Competency (Doc. No. 76), we find Defendant Veimer Rodriguez incompetent to stand trial for the reasons that follow.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History and Summary of Expert Reports

On January 31, 2008, Defendant Veimer Rodriguez ("Rodriguez") was charged in an indictment with one count of conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, two counts of dealing in counterfeit currency in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 473, and aiding and abetting in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2. When the defense raised concerns as to Rodriguez's competency to stand trial, Steven E. Samuel, Ph.D. ("Dr. Samuel"), performed a psychological evaluation of Rodriguez on June 12, 2008 upon request of defense counsel. (Dr. Samuel Report 1.) Dr. Samuel submitted his expert report on June 26, 2008. (Id.)

In his report, Dr. Samuel concluded that Rodriguez is incompetent to stand trial. He based this conclusion on the following findings. He found that, with a full-scale IQ score of 56, Rodriguez "is operating in the Mild Mental Retardation range of intelligence" and stated that this condition "is permanent." (Id. at 5-6.) He also concluded that Rodriguez's "short-term memory functioning is moderately impaired whereas his long-term memory functioning is variable, with these scores ranging between borderline to moderately impaired" and that there was "no reason to conclude that... Rodriguez's memory abilities would significantly, or spontaneously, improve at some point in the future." (Id. at 6.) Following the administration of the Competence Assessment for Standing Trial for Defendants with Mental Retardation ("CAST*MR"), Dr. Samuel determined that Rodriguez's "profile is consistent with mentally retarded [defendants] who are not competent to proceed to trial" mainly due to his "fundamental [inability] to make the specific decisions regarding his defense." (Id.) The CAST*MR also revealed that Rodriguez is "easily manipulated and [misled]" and that he misunderstands many of the concepts and roles of persons involved in the trial process. (Id. at 6-7.) These results led Dr. Samuel to conclude that Rodriguez does not have the "ability to consult rationally with [defense counsel] nor the sufficient present ability to work with [defense counsel]" and that therefore he was incompetent to stand trial. (Id. at 6.)

Following the submission of Dr. Samuel's report, Rodriguez then underwent an examination by Frank M. Dattilio, Ph.D. ("Dr. Dattilio"), and Robert L. Sadoff, M.D. ("Dr. Sadoff"), upon request of the Government. Dr. Dattilio engaged in a psychological evaluation of Rodriguez on November 19, 2008 and December 19, 2008, while Dr. Sadoff conducted a psychiatric examination on November 19, 2008. (Dr. Dattilio Report 1-2; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Dr. Dattilio and Dr. Sadoff submitted their expert reports on December 22, 2008 and December 23, 2008, respectively. (Dr. Dattilio Report 1; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.)

Dr. Dattilio performed many of the same tests as Dr. Samuel but came to the conclusion that Rodriguez is "marginally competent." (Dr. Dattilio Report 10.) Dr. Dattilio found that Rodriguez's full-scale IQ score of 69 places him "right on the crest between the mild mentally retarded range and the borderline range of intellectual functioning" but that his "true score hovers in the low end of the borderline range." (Id. at 7.) To account for the difference between his results and the results of Dr. Samuel, Dr. Dattilio explained that he used the Spanish version of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scales of Intelligence, while Dr. Samuel used the English version, and that Dr. Dattilio calculated Rodriguez's score based on Rodriguez's true age of 42, while Dr. Samuel thought Rodriguez's age was 46. (Id. at 8.) Dr. Dattilio also administered the Spanish version of the CAST*MR test. (Id. at 9.) Rodriguez scored higher than he did previously with Dr. Samuel, getting 64% correct with respect to questions regarding basic legal concepts, 40% correct with respect to questions in the area of skills to assist his attorney, and 100% correct with respect to questions related to his understanding of case events. (Id. at 9-10.) Dr. Dattilio also agreed with Dr. Samuel that Rodriguez is susceptible to manipulation by others but attributed much of this problem to "emotional and cultural dependence, as opposed to his cognitive deficits and inability to make decisions for himself." (Id. at 11-12.) He also noted that Rodriguez "may be functioning at a high enough level to know that if he 'plays dumb' in responding to some of the competency questions, this may certainly help his case." (Id. at 12.) Based on his evaluation, Dr. Dattilio concluded that Rodriguez, "while suffering from clear cognitive deficits and some memory impairment, is considered marginally competent." (Id.) He further indicated that Rodriguez might "be amenable to competency restoration" to overcome any difficulties Rodriguez experienced with competency. (Id. at 10, 12.)

In his own report, Dr. Sadoff concurred with Dr. Dattilio's conclusions. He specifically stated that Rodriguez "know[s] the nature and consequences of his current legal situation and has some concept of what goes on in court, though he has some misunderstandings about the role of the jury and the role of the prosecutor." (Dr. Sadoff Report 8.) Dr. Sadoff concluded however that any misunderstandings were "more educational issues than they [were] mental health issues and [could] be restored through educational rehabilitation prior to trial." (Id.) He further found that Rodriguez's "ability to work with counsel" constituted "an issue that needs to be addressed," though with "proper education and training, it was likely... that... Rodriguez would achieve [this] ability." (Id.)

After the submission of Dr. Dattilio's and Dr. Sadoff's reports, the parties agreed to enroll Rodriguez in a competency restoration process performed by Alex M. Siegel, J.D., Ph.D. ("Dr. Siegel"). Dr. Siegel met with Rodriguez for four treatment sessions on April 3, 2009, April 10, 2009, April 17, 2009, and April 29, 2009. (Dr. Siegel Report 1, 6.) Dr. Siegel submitted his expert report on May 1, 2009. (Id. at 1.)

After Dr. Siegel's initial assessment of Rodriguez, he concluded that Rodriguez was "marginally competent to proceed to trial" but that he was "an appropriate candidate for a brief intensive treatment to restore his competency to stand trial." (Id. at 5.) In crafting a specific competency restoration treatment plan, Dr. Siegel "focused on two general interventions": (1) "a structural cognitive problem-solving approach to help [Rodriguez] communicate more rationally and factually with his attorney as well as understand the consequences of the possible outcomes at his trial," and (2) "a psychoeducational intervention using a model of a courtroom with discussions to teach [Rodriguez] the roles of the courtroom personnel and the courtroom procedure." (Id. at 6.)

Throughout this process, Dr. Siegel made many observations about Rodriguez. First, Dr. Siegel learned that Rodriguez is better able to learn when the discussion focused on a hypothetical defendant; "when the examiner focused the questions on [Rodriguez] as a defendant, [Rodriguez] became more flustered and confused." (Id.) Dr. Siegel attributed this reaction to Rodriguez's inability to comprehend potential negative consequences or outcomes. (Id.) Second, Dr. Siegel concluded that Rodriguez is capable of learning and understanding things with time and practice. (Id. at 1, 9.) To support this conclusion, Dr. Siegel pointed to the fact that Rodriguez got lost on his first solo visit to his office, though he had already made two prior visits with his attorney to see Dr. Siegel, but managed to find the office on his next visit. (Id.) Finally, Dr. Siegel noted that Rodriguez "is trusting of 'authority figures' and people he perceives as friends," resulting in his easy "manipulation by others." (Id. at 9.) Thus, Rodriguez "may acquiesce rather than fully understanding what is going on around him or fully understand[ing] what others are asking of him." (Id.)

Following the completion of the competency restoration treatments, Dr. Siegel administered the English version of the CAST*MR test. (Id. at 8.) Rodriguez got 76% correct with respect to questions regarding basic legal concepts, 67% correct with respect to questions in the area of skills to assist his attorney, and 97% correct with respect to questions related to his understanding of case events. (Id.) Dr. Siegel also stated that Rodriguez's understanding of the courtroom personnel and the courtroom process had been increased" and that "Rodriguez was able to give enough details surrounding his arrest" to suggest his ability "to communicate with his counsel and assist him in his defense." (Id. at 9-10.) Therefore, Dr. Siegel concluded that Rodriguez is now fit to stand trial. (Id. at 10.)

This Court then held a hearing to assess Defendant Rodriguez's competency to stand trial on May 12, 2009. Dr. Sadoff, Dr. Siegel, and Defendant Rodriguez testified at this hearing.

B. Factual Findings

This Court makes the following findings from the record based on a preponderance of the evidence. Defendant Rodriguez is a 42-year-old man who lived in Cali, Colombia until around the age of 20 when he immigrated to the United States. (Dr. Samuel Report 2; Dr. Dattilio Report 3-4; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Rodriguez was the second oldest of four children and was primarily raised by his mother. (Dr. Samuel Report 2; Dr. Dattilio Report 3; Dr. Sadoff Report 2-3.) His father was an alcoholic who left the family on several occasions but was intermittently involved. (Dr. Samuel Report 2; Dr. Dattilio Report 3-4; Dr. Sadoff Report 2.) Rodriguez stopped going to school after completing the third or fourth grade around the age of 13 or 14 because he needed to make a financial contribution to the family. (Dr. Samuel Report 2; Dr. Dattilio Report 4; Dr. Sadoff Report 3.) Rodriguez has worked as a mechanic, a cleaner, and a landscaper but has spent most of his time as a house painter. (Dr. Dattilio Report 2; Dr. Sadoff Report 3.) Rodriguez speaks, reads, and writes in Spanish, but cannot read or write in English. (Dr. Dattilio Report 3; Dr. Sadoff Report 3.) Though he can speak a limited amount of English, Rodriguez is not conversant in this language. (Dr. Samuel Report 2; Dr. Dattilio Report 3; Dr. Sadoff Report 3.)

After coming to the United States, Rodriguez met a woman named Jessica whom he eventually married. (Dr. Dattilio Report 4-5; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Rodriguez and Jessica had a son named Veimer III who is now seventeen years old. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Rodriguez and Jessica divorced after approximately five years of marriage, but Rodriguez still sees his son Veimer regularly. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5-6; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Years later, Rodriguez met a woman named Sonia with whom he has lived for about ten years. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) Rodriguez and Sonia had a son named Anthony who is now almost three years old. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.) After criminal charges were brought against Rodriguez, he lost his job. (Dr. Dattilio Report 6; Dr. Sadoff Report 6.) When Rodriguez and Sonia were forced to give up the apartment they shared, Sonia took Anthony to live in a very small apartment. (Dr. Dattilio Report 6; Dr. Sadoff Report 6.) Because the apartment was too small for Rodriguez to also occupy it, he went to live with his mother, though he stills sees Sonia and Anthony daily. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5-6; Dr. Sadoff Report 1.)

About a year before the charges in this case were brought, Rodriguez met a man named Jazon Dussan ("Dussan") when Dussan delivered a pizza to his home. (Dr. Sadoff Report 4-5.) Dussan befriended Rodriguez, took him out to eat on several occasions, and even lent him money. (Dr. Samuel Report 3-4; Dr. Dattilio Report 6; Dr. Sadoff Report 5.) Rodriguez wanted Dussan to like him, and when Dussan asked Rodriguez to do him a favor by bringing some money to another person, Rodriguez obliged. (Dr. Samuel Report 3-4; Dr. Dattilio Report 6; Dr. Sadoff Report 3-4.) During the second transfer that Rodriguez made for Dussan, Rodriguez was arrested. (Dr. Samuel Report 3; Dr. Dattilio Report 6; Dr. Sadoff Report 5.)

Following the initiation of criminal charges against Rodriguez, an evaluation of his competency to stand trial began. Based on the reports submitted by the four experts who examined Rodriguez and based on the testimony that Dr. Sadoff, Dr. Siegel, and Rodriguez gave to this Court during the May 12, 2009 hearing, many facts related to Rodriguez's competency to stand trial are apparent.

Rodriguez says that he "has been slow since he was born," (Dr. Sadoff Report 4), but this condition has been compounded by several head injuries throughout his lifetime, (Dr. Samuel Report 2-3; Dr. Dattilio Report 4-5; Dr. Sadoff Report 2, 4). While living in Colombia as a young child, Rodriguez was severely beaten by thieves who invaded his family home. (Dr. Sadoff Report 2.) At the age of 18 while still living in Colombia, Rodriguez was involved in a motorcycle accident in which he experienced a head injury resulting in loss of consciousness and hospitalization for one day. (Dr. Samuel Report 3; Dr. Dattilio Report 4; Dr. Sadoff Report 4.) Finally, about six years ago in the United States, Rodriguez was hit by a motor vehicle while crossing the street. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5; Dr. Sadoff Report 4.) He sustained a head injury, lost consciousness, and spent a week in the Temple University Hospital. (Dr. Dattilio Report 5; Dr. Sadoff Report 4.)

Whether due to a congenital condition or a later head trauma, Rodriguez clearly suffers from several cognitive deficiencies. Rodriguez has an IQ score that places him between the mild mentally retarded range and the borderline range of intellectual functioning. (Dr. Samuel Report 5-6; Dr. Dattilio Report 7.) Rodriguez also struggles with his long- and short-term memory, both of which are significantly impaired. (Dr. Samuel Report 6; Dr. Dattilio Report 8-9.) Because Rodriguez's limitations in intelligence and memory are permanent conditions, there is no reasonable expectation that any of these deficiencies would improve with time or effort. (Dr. Samuel Report 6.)

These impairments acting together serve as a serious impediment to Rodriguez's ability to learn new things. (Id.) Because Rodriguez lives with limited intellectual functioning, he learns through repetitive experiences. (Competency Hr'g N.T. 40:6-9, May 12, 2009.) But even once Rodriguez manages to take in new information or new concepts, he is apt to forget what he has learned at some point in the future due to his memory issues. (Dr. Samuel Report 6.) Rodriguez's learning disability is clearly demonstrated by his difficulties in finding Dr. Siegel's office on his own even though his counsel had brought him to the office for two prior appointments. (Dr. Siegel Report 1.) Not only did Rodriguez get lost, but he ended up in Conshohocken, PA about ten miles away from Dr. Siegel's office in Narberth, PA. (N.T. 112:10-20.) Though Rodriguez eventually arrived at Dr. Siegel's office about half an hour late, he only found his way because his counsel was on the phone directing him where to go. (Id. at 113:3-8.) The next week, Rodriguez found his way to the office; however, he had forgotten that there was no appointment scheduled that week. (Id. at 113:9-13.)

Rodriguez's cognitive and intellectual deficiencies also make it especially difficult for Rodriguez to grasp abstract concepts. While Rodriguez is relatively proficient in recounting concrete factual occurrences he has experienced, he is frequently stumped when faced with abstractions. For example, during the competency hearing held on May 12, 2009, Rodriguez freely discussed the facts surrounding his arrest and subsequent indictment before the Court. (N.T. 140:24-144:23.) However, once the questioning turned from the concrete to the abstract, Rodriguez clearly struggled, especially when discussing legal concepts. Thus, despite the fact that he had discussed the concept of pleading guilty with Dr. Siegel, (Dr. Siegel Report 8), Rodriguez told the Court that he did not "understand what it means," (N.T. 134:4-6). Rodriguez further told the Court that he thinks that his counsel, Jose Ongay ("Ongay"), is like a judge in that "he tries to see who's good, and who's bad, and that way he can, you know, find them guilty or defend them." (Id. at 155:20-22.) Rodriguez also adheres to the false idea that the Court must find someone responsible for the offenses charged and that, because he believes Dussan "flew the coop," the Court must find Rodriguez guilty. (Id. at 39:1-9, 163:22-25; see also Dr. Sadoff Report 5.)

Not only does Rodriguez struggle to grasp abstract concepts, but he particularly has difficulty in applying those concepts to his personal situation. This is because Rodriguez cannot effectively contemplate negative consequences. Thus, when Dr. Siegel attempted to restore Rodriguez's competency, he found that he needed to use hypothetical defendants to teach Rodriguez about the trial process. (N.T. 99:7-13; Dr. Siegel Report 6.) If he used questions that explicitly identified Rodriguez as the defendant, Rodriguez would become "flustered and confused." (Dr. Siegel Report 6.) Similarly, Rodriguez would not discuss with Dr. Siegel the potential negative outcomes that his son, Veimer, could face from complications following a kidney transplant. (N.T. 99:23-100:23; Dr. Siegel Report 6.) While Rodriguez could discuss his son's illness and recent ...


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