People v. Gilbert.
2020 COA 137. No. 18CA2050. Criminal Law—Mental Health Examination—Due Process—Right to Counsel of Choice—Disqualification of Judge.
September 17, 2020
A Best Buy employee found defendant sitting in a coworker’s vehicle in the store’s parking lot. The employee confronted defendant, who then exited the car with a knife in hand and fled on foot. Defendant subsequently stole or attempted to steal three cars by threatening the occupants of those cars with the knife. While fleeing in one of the stolen cars, defendant caused a collision. He left the scene of the accident, stole a truck, and drove away. Police found defendant and the stolen truck a week later.
Defendant was charged with several crimes related to the theft or attempted theft of the cars. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment, and the court set dates for a motions hearing and trial. The day before the motions hearing, defendant’s counsel filed a notice asking the court to order a mental health examination and vacate the scheduled trial date to allow time for it. The court denied the request. A jury convicted defendant of aggravated robbery, attempted second degree assault, two counts of aggravated first degree motor vehicle theft, second degree criminal trespass, careless driving, and leaving the scene of an accident.
On appeal, defendant contended that his convictions should be reversed because the district court erred in denying his request to undergo a mental health examination and present evidence that he was suffering from one or more mental conditions at the time of the incidents. A defendant has a right to introduce relevant evidence regarding the lack of the necessary mens rea due to a mental condition, regardless of whether a crime requires general or specific intent. Therefore, defendant’s mental state was relevant. Additionally, though defendant was required to give notice of his intent to present evidence of his mental condition at the arraignment, defendant’s counsel showed good cause for the late notice. Therefore, the trial court erred, and this error denied defendant the opportunity to meet the burden of going forward with his affirmative defense.
Defendant also argued that the trial court denied his right to retain counsel of his choice. The trial court must balance the defendant’s right to counsel of choice against the public’s interest in the efficiency and integrity of the justice system. Here, the court erred by failing to conduct this balancing test before denying defendant’s request for substitution of counsel and a continuation of the trial.
Defendant further argued that it was error to deny his motion to disqualify the trial judge. Defendant’s motion alleged that the judge was biased, based on the judge’s criticism of defense counsel at the motions hearing. However, while the trial judge’s comments may have been rude, they were not so inappropriate to indicate that the judge lacked the impartiality required to preside over the case. In addition, the moving party’s motion to disqualify must be verified, timely, and supported by the affidavits of at least two credible persons unrelated to the defendant. Here, while the motion was verified, it was not supported by two affidavits. Therefore, the motion was properly denied.
The judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.
Criminal Law Mental Health Examination Due Process Right to Counsel of Choice Disqualification of Judge