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United States v. Corbyn Big Eagle

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Central Division

May 6, 2016

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
CORBYN BIG EAGLE, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER REGARDING DEFENDANT'S COMPETENCY TO STAND TRIAL

ROBERTO A. LANGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

After Defendant Corbyn Big Eagle was indicted in July of 2015 for first degree murder in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153 and 1111, Big Eagle's attorney, Neil Fulton, filed a Motion for Mental Examination, Doc. 30, requesting that this Court order that Big Eagle undergo a mental examination pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 4241(a) and (b). Counsel for the government, Jay Miller, did not oppose the motion. Doc. 30. On October 7, 2015, this Court granted the Motion for Mental Examination and directed that Big Eagle undergo a psychiatric or psychological examination conducted by licensed psychologist Dr. Scott Pribyl in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Doc. 34.

On April 12, 2016, Big Eagle supplemented his Motion for Mental Examination, Doc. 35, with Dr. Pribyl's Psychological/Competency Evaluation, Doc. 35-1, as well as a competency evaluation conducted by licensed psychologist Dr. Krislea Wegner, Doc. 35-2. This Court held a competency hearing on April 26, 2016. Doc. 36. At the hearing, no objections were made to the Court considering the reports of Dr. Pribyl and Dr. Wegner, and Big Eagle testified as die sole witness. For die reasons stated below, diis Court finds tiiat Big Eagle is competent to stand trial.

1. FACTS PERTINENT TO MOTION

Big Eagle's competence was first evaluated by Dr. Wegner, who interviewed Big Eagle on September 19, 2015, at die Hughes County Jail in Pierre, South Dakota, at the request of Big Eagle's attorney. Dr. Wegner also reviewed collateral records, including court documents, investigative materials, and Big Eagle's criminal, mental, medical, and school records. Doc. 35-2 at 1-2. Dr. Wegner's report consists of nine pages and briefly addresses Big Eagle's history on me following topics: family, mental healtii, education, legal, medical, and alcohol and other drug use. Doc. 35-2 at 2-5.

By the time of Dr. Wegner's evaluation, Big Eagle had been prescribed two medications, Sertraline[1] and Risperdal, [2] but he told Dr. Wegner mat he had stopped taking Risperdal a few days prior to September 19, 2015. Doc. 35-2 at 3. Dr. Wegner estimated that Big Eagle had below average intelligence and noted mat during die clinical interview he appeared anxious, had minimal eye contact, would easily lose focus, and, at times, had scattered mought. Doc. 35-2 at 2. Dr. Wegner's diagnostic impression of Big Eagle included Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (combined type), schizoaffective disorder (depressive type), and social anxiety disorder. Doc. 35-2 at 5.

Dr. Wegner utilized six psychological tests that evaluated Big Eagle's malingering of reported symptoms, competence to stand trial, psychopathology and personality functioning levels, assertive and aggressive behaviors, personality disorders and general psychological functioning, and abnormal personality traits. Doc. 35-2 at 1, 6-8. Results suggested that Big Eagle's malingering of symptoms was "highly improbable, " that he had low levels of assertive behavior, and that he had a generally passive and depressive personality. Doc. 35-2 at 6-8. Dr. Wegner tested Big Eagle's competency to stand trial with sixty-one questions-of which he answered fifty-seven correctly-and on scales measuring understanding, reasoning, and appreciation. Doc. 35-2 at 4. Dr. Wegner concluded that Big Eagle "ha[d] a basic understanding of courtroom proceedings, " but his scores on reasoning and appreciation fell in the impairment range. Doc. 35-2 at 6. Dr. Wegner reasoned that Big Eagle had difficulty focusing on some questions, would occasionally ask for questions to be repeated, and, on occasion, would take long pauses before answering questions. Doc. 35-2 at 6. Dr. Wegner opined that Big Eagle's ability to communicate and convey information was "quite impaired" and that he "did demonstrate some responses that would suggest psychotic impairment." Doc. 35-2 at 7.

In Dr. Wegner's professional opinion, Big Eagle did not possess the current capability to competently stand trial for the following reasons: "(1) his diminishing capability for reciprocal, emotional interpersonal interactions, (2) inability to retain/sustain focus and comprehension of information for learning/understanding relation to court proceedings, (3) diagnosed with mental illnesses . . . that are organic in nature with specific problems in executive functioning, diminished ability for accurate perceptions of his environment and a disordered thought process." Doc. 35-2 at 8-9. Dr. Wegner's opinion was premised on Big Eagle's "capabilities, at present time, given his untreated mental illness." Doc. 35-2 at 8-9.

Big Eagle then met with Dr. Pribyl at the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls on two occasions: once on November 28, 2015 for three hours and again on December 2, 2015 for two hours and fifteen minutes. Doc. 35-1 at 1. Dr. Pribyl reviewed various documents in preparation for Big Eagle's clinical interview, including the referral, investigative data, court documents, and medical, mental health, and student records. Doc. 35-1 at 1. At the time of Dr. Pribyl's meeting with Big Eagle, Big Eagle reported he last took Risperdal in September of 2015 but that he had been taking Sertraline on a regular basis. Doc. 35-1 at 5-6. During their meetings, Dr. Pribyl observed that Big Eagle did not appear anxious, understood the purpose of their meetings, and was oriented to person, time, and place. Doc. 35-1 at 2-3. Dr. Pribyl's report totals twenty-seven pages and details information on the following topics: background information, mental status and behavioral observations, medical and mental health history, alcohol and drug history, legal history, educational and employment history, child and family information, relationships, collateral data, testing results, diagnostic impressions, competency issues, instant offense information, and case analysis and discussion. Doc. 35-1 at 2-27. Dr. Pribyl had the following diagnostic impressions of Big Eagle: major depressive disorder, with intermittent psychotic features that can be effectively treated with Sertraline; alcohol, cannabis, and prescription use; borderline, dependent, and schizotypal personality traits; and nonadherence to medical treatment. Doc. 35-1 at 20.

Dr. Pribyl employed various protocols in his evaluation of Big Eagle, including five psychological tests that measured his mental state, verbal and non-verbal intelligence, multiphasic personality, [3] self-reported symptoms, and competency to stand trial. Doc. 35-1 at 3-24. Big Eagle's mental state score was within the acceptable range for a similarly-situated adult, and he showed an average IQ composite score of 98. Doc. 35-1 at 3, 17. Dr. Pribyl reported that the cognitive screening data suggests that Big Eagle has a "low average verbal or crystallized thinking abilities; high average nonverbal or fluid thinking abilities; [and] approximately average overall abilities." Doc. 35-1 at 17. The self-reported symptoms test-which is designed to assess potential distortions in the self-report of symptoms through eight primary scales- indicated that Big Eagle primarily ranked as either an "Honest Responder" or an "Indeterminate, " excepting only one scale, Subtle Symptoms, as "Probable Feigning." Doc. 35-1 at 18-19.

The final test Dr. Pribyl performed assessed Big Eagle's competency to stand trial. Doc. 35-1 at 21-24. The report details Dr. Pribyl's examination of Big Eagle's ability to consult with counsel, factual understanding of the courtroom proceedings, rational understanding of the courtroom proceedings, and overall rational abilities. Doc. 35-1 at 21-24. Big Eagle correctly identified his attorney and his attorney's investigator and expressed that his attorney was helpful and meeting his expectations. Doc. 35-1 at 21. When asked who was in charge of court, Big Eagle said "the judge, " and expressed an understanding that if he was found guilty, the judge would determine his sentence. Doc. 35-1 at 22. Big Eagle rightly characterized the prosecutors and jury's role, including that if the jury found him guilty that the judge would be the one to impose sentence. Doc. 35-1 at 22. Although Big Eagle answered two questions that suggested the possibility of some self-defeating motivation-that he would testify if his attorney told him to and that he would "go with" a plea agreement if the prosecution made a "good offer"-Dr. Pribyl reported that "there was no evidence of psychotic reasoning." Doc. 35-1 at 23.

Dr. Pribyl opined that "the clinical impressions and cognitive screening data do suggest that [Big Eagle] has the ability to consult with counsel, to have an adequate factual understanding of the Court and Courtroom processes, and that he has the ability to relate to his counsel as long as he maintains his current antidepressive medication, Sertraline." Doc. 35-1 at 26. Based on that evaluation, Dr. Pribyl summarized that Big Eagle showed no impairment across all competency scales. Dr. Pribyl concluded his report with the following:

Based on the clinical interview, current psychological testing, the review of extensive previous medical and mental health records and the Evaluation of Competency to Stand Trial - Review, it is this psychologist's opinion that as of 12-02-16 that Corbyn Dayne Big Eagle was not suffering from a mental disease or defect that would render him to be mentally incompetent to the extent that he would be unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him, or to properly assist in his defense with his defense attorney, Neil Fulton. This psychologist did observe Corbyn at times, to have fairly lengthy latencies before responding to some, but certainly not all, questions. When Corbyn did respond, his answers were rational and his thoughts appeared to be connected and goal directed. As long as Corbyn takes his prescribed ...

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