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United States v. Almendarez

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JESSE ALMENDAREZ, Defendant

OPINION AND ORDER

Maurice B. Cohill, Jr., Senior United States District Court Judge.

On November 13, 2014, we entered an Order finding by a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant, Jesse Almendarez, was then presently suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he was unable to assist properly in his defense. Accordingly, we ordered that Mr. Almendarez, who was housed at the Allegheny County Jail, be committed to the custody of the United States Attorney General to be hospitalized for treatment in a suitable facility for a reasonable period, not to exceed four months, as would be necessary to determine whether there was a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he would attain the capacity to permit the trial to proceed. Mr. Almendarez was never transported to a medical facility and remains at the Allegheny County Jail.

On April 16, 2015, we held a status conference initiated at the request of the government regarding the fact that the Defendant had not been transported, and to address what affect this had on Speedy Trial Act calculations, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161, et seq. In anticipation of the conference we issued tentative findings of fact and rulings of law in response to the government’s request to toll the Speedy Trial clock in which we tentatively found that pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3161(h)(4) the defendant has been and remains under an excludable period of delay due to the fact that he is mentally incompetent to stand trial.

At the conference the government requested that we issue a second Order committing the Defendant to the custody of the Attorney General to be transported to a suitable facility so that he could receive necessary treatment. In part, the government cited the fact that at a minimum Mr. Almendarez could begin to receive treatment while the parties and the Court determine outstanding legal issues. We agree with the government and will contemporaneously enter a renewed Order to commit Mr. Almendarez to the custody of the Attorney General for treatment.

Defense counsel requested time to file a pleading addressing the government’s motion, which we granted. On April 20, 2015, counsel for Mr. Almendarez filed a Motion to Dismiss Indictment in which he argues that there is a Speedy Trial Act violation and requests that the Indictment be dismissed with prejudice. ECF No. 65. The government filed its own anticipatory brief addressing defense counsel’s potential arguments to dismiss on Speedy Trial grounds. ECF No. 64. The government also filed a Supplemental Brief, ECF No. 66, to which defense counsel filed a Reply, ECF No. 67. We now issue the following Opinion and Order, which supersedes our tentative findings of fact and rulings of law of April 15, 2015.

I. Background

On May 7, 2013, a grand jury returned an indictment charging Jesse Almendarez with one count of threatening a Federal Officer in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B), and one count of interstate threat in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(c). Mr. Almendarez made his initial appearance on May 9, 2013. He was arraigned and entered a plea of not guilty on May 13, 2013. An order extending the time for filing pretrial motions to June 28, 2013, was entered on May 13, 2013.

On June 28, 2013, Marketa Sims, Esquire, a federal public defender, filed a motion to extend the time for filing pretrial motions to August 27, 2013. This motion was granted on July 1, 2013. Thereafter, defense counsel filed four successive additional motions, all of which were granted; these motions extended the time for filing pretrial motions to April 28, 2014.

On March 19, 2014, we held a status conference, initiated by motion of the government, to assess whether a competency evaluation was needed in this case. At the time, the Court had received correspondence from Mr. Almendarez indicating the possibility of delusional thought. In addition, the pleadings indicated that Mr. Almendarez has been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, paranoid type, that he has been under psychiatric care from time to time, and that he does not always take his prescribed medications. Mr. Almendarez was present at the status conference, appeared to comprehend his circumstances, and responded appropriately. In addition, defense counsel vigorously argued that her client was competent and represented to the court that a plea agreement between the parties had been reached. Thus we did not order a competency evaluation at that time.

We subsequently learned from defense counsel that Mr. Almendarez had decided not to enter into a plea agreement and on April 28, 2014, his counsel filed substantive pretrial motions, to which the government filed responses. One of Mr. Almendarez’s motions raised the issue of whether he was competent to waive certain rights during various interviews conducted by law enforcement agents during the investigation of this case. In response, the government filed a motion for a competency hearing. Defense counsel opposed the motion, but argued that if a competency hearing was scheduled that Defendant be evaluated locally.

On May 28, 2014, we granted the government’s motion for a competency evaluation over the objection of defense counsel, in part, because it seemed evident that in an evidentiary hearing to address the issues raised in Mr. Almendarez’s pretrial motions we would be making an assessment and judgment as to whether he was suffering from a mental impairment such that he was unable to understand his constitutional, civil, and privacy rights. In addition, we had continued to receive numerous letters from Mr. Almendarez indicating delusional thought at odds with the reality of the present proceedings. We did, however, acquiesce to defense counsel’s request that the competency evaluation be performed locally at the Allegheny County Jail by a local doctor in order to reduce any delay in the proceedings. The Order was entered on June 4, 2014. The evaluation was conducted and a report was issued dated July 17, 2014.

On July 28, 2014, successor defense counsel, Jay Finkelstein, Esquire, also a federal public defender, entered his appearance for Mr. Almendarez, and on August 8, 2014, he understandably sought an additional 60 days, to October 10, 2014, to respond and proceed to a competency hearing. We set the competency hearing for November 13, 2014. After the hearing, on November 13, 2014, we entered the Order finding that Mr. Almendarez was mentally incompetent to the extent that he was unable to assist properly in his defense, and committing him to the custody of the Attorney General to be hospitalized for treatment in a suitable facility. As noted, Mr. Almendarez has not been transported for treatment.

II. Discussion

As we stated in our tentative findings of fact and rulings law we initially laid fault for the error with the Court. The Court failed to deliver a copy of this Order to the United States Marshal Service, which is responsible for transporting Mr. Almendarez to a suitable Bureau of Prisons facility for treatment. We also placed partial blame with defense counsel, who never informed the Court during the five months that Mr. Almendarez ...


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