« Ind. Law - High fenced hunting bill passes House, goes to Senate | Main | Courts - More on Indiana's involvement in the Texas immigration suit »

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal

In McManus v. Neal, Sup.Ind.State Prison (SD Ind., Pratt), a 51-page ruling, Judge Sykes writes:

An Indiana jury convicted Paul McManus of murdering his estranged wife and two young daughters, and the trial judge sentenced him to death in accordance with the jury’s recommendation. The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal, but on postconviction review the trial judge found McManus intellectually disabled and thus ineligible for the death penalty. See Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002); see also IND. CODE § 35-36-9-6. A divided Indiana Supreme Court disagreed and reimposed the death sentence.

McManus then sought federal habeas review on several claims of constitutional error, including a challenge to the rejection of his claim of intellectual disability under Atkins. The district court denied relief but authorized an appeal on the Atkins issue. We expanded the certificate of appealability to include the following questions: (1) whether the state courts unreasonably applied federal due-process standards in finding McManus competent to stand trial, see Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375 (1966); Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960); (2) whether McManus was forced to appear before the jury in a “drug-induced stupor” in violation of Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127 (1992); and (3) whether McManus’s trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to present additional mitigating evidence about his intellectual disability during the sentencing phase of the trial.

We agree with the district court that McManus is not entitled to habeas relief on his claim of categorical ineligibility for the death penalty. The state high court applied the rule of Atkins and made a reasonable factual determination that McManus is not intellectually disabled. But the state courts unreasonably applied clearly established due-process standards for adjudicating a defendant’s competency to stand trial. The record reflects that McManus decompensated soon after the trial testimony got underway. He had several panic attacks, and his symptoms were severe enough to require two trips to the emergency room. There he was treated with a potent combination of several psychotropic drugs—including one that knocks out memory—as well as an opioid painkiller. He remained on a regimen of mind-altering medications for the duration of the trial.

The powerful effect of the medications alone created substantial doubt about McManus’s mental fitness for trial, but the judge never ordered a competency evaluation. Instead, the judge focused on getting McManus “fixed up” enough to complete the trial. By taking this approach, the judge failed to apply the legal framework established in Dusky and Pate for addressing competency questions. The Indiana Supreme Court recited the correct legal standard but in the end did not actually apply it. Although habeas review of state judgments is deferential, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)–(2) (2012), the record does not permit a conclusion that the state courts reasonably applied federal constitutional requirements for adjudicating a defendant’s competency to stand trial.

Accordingly, we reverse and remand to the district court with instructions to grant the writ unless Indiana gives notice of its intent to retry McManus within a reasonable time to be set by the district court. This holding makes it unnecessary for us to address McManus’s remaining claims, which rest on other allegations of constitutional error at trial. * * *

For the foregoing reasons, McManus is not entitled to habeas relief on his claim of intellectual disability under Atkins. But the state courts unreasonably applied federal due-process standards in adjudicating McManus’s competency to stand trial. Accordingly, we REVERSE the district court’s judgment and REMAND with instructions to grant the writ unless Indiana gives notice of its intent to retry McManus within a reasonable time to be fixed by the district court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 18, 2015 04:19 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions