Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wingo: District Court should have sua sponte ordered competency hearing

In U.S. v. Wingo, No. 13-14435 (June 17, 2015), the Court reversed a money laundering conviction, after a guilty plea, and an 84-month sentence, because the district court failed to sua sponte order a competency hearing, as required by 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a) when there is reasonable cause to believe that a defendant is mentally incompetent. After the defendant was adjudged guilty, the defense submitted an extensive sentencing memorandum, accompanied by lengthy medical reports, which indicated that had a diminished mental capacity, evidenced by brain atrophy and dysfunction. The Court recognized that the district court could not possibly have known of the extent of Wingo’s mental health problems until counsel filed the sentencing memorandum. The Court further recognized that the sentencing memorandum was directed towards obtaining a reduced sentence, and did not request a competency hearing. Nevertheless, the district court was required by § 4241(a) to sua sponte inquire into Wingo’s competency, and its failure to do so was an abuse of discretion. The Court held that if Wingo is determined to have been incompetent at the time of his guilty plea, the conviction and sentence must be vacated, subject to the government’s right to try him should he become competent.