The opinion of the court was delivered by: GEORGE LINDBERG, Senior District Judge
This matter comes before the court on Pablo Estrada's petition for a
writ of habeas corpus. For the following reasons, the court denies the
Petitioner was charged in Illinois state court with two counts of first
degree murder, attempted murder, and aggravated battery. During
proceedings on October 25th, 1993, petitioner's lawyer requested that he
be examined for fitness because of complaints made by the petitioner.
Petitioner was taken to Cermak Hospital and examined overnight. There was
no indication in the hospital's report of the examination that petitioner
was unfit or unable to understand the court proceedings. The proceedings
continued and on October 26, 1993, petitioner pled guilty to first-degree
murder and aggravated battery, and was sentenced to concurrent terms of
40 years and five years in prison. On November 13, 1993, petitioner filed
a motion to vacate the guilty plea, which was denied. Petitioner then
appealed and the Illinois Appellate Court remanded because petitioner's
lawyer had failed to file a certificate of compliance with Supreme Court
Rule 604(d). Upon remand, petitioner filed an amended motion to vacate
his guilty plea, alleging that his plea was involuntary because he was
taking psychotropic medication at the time of his plea. The state trial court
again denied his motion to vacate his plea and another appeal ensued.
Although the Illinois Appellate Court found that "evidence of
[petitioner's] demeanor, deportment, and communications with his counsel
supported the conclusion drawn by the trial court that [petitioner] was
fit, the record was incomplete on the . . . medications and any impact
they had on [him]." The Illinois Appellate Court ordered "a limited
remand to determine whether a retrospective fitness finding was
Upon remand, the state trial court conducted a hearing to determine
whether a retrospective fitness hearing would be meaningful, and whether
petitioner's mental capacity had been impaired on the date of his plea as
a result of the medication he was taking. Dr. Philip Pan, a staff
psychiatrist with Forensic Clinical Services of the Circuit Court of Cook
County, examined petitioner's medical and psychiatric records, including
the records from petitioner's October 25, 1993, examination at Cermak
Hospital. Dr. Pan concluded that, although petitioner was taking
psychotropic drugs at the time of his guilty plea, the drugs did not have
any adverse effect on petitioner's ability to plead guilty. In Dr. Pan's
opinion, petitioner was fit to enter a plea on October 26, 1993. The
state trial court concluded that the retrospective fitness hearing was
meaningful, that petitioner did not suffer any impairment as a result of
the medication when he pled guilty, and that petitioner was fit at the
time of the guilty plea. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the state
trial court's finding and concluded that the retrospective fitness
hearing was meaningful and that the trial court did not err in finding
that defendant was fit when he pled guilty. The Illinois Appellate Court also found that the state trial
court did not err in refusing to provide funds for petitioner to obtain
an expert psychiatric witness.
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"),
"habeas relief shall not be granted unless the state court decision was
`contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States,' or `was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in
light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.'" Schaff
v. Snyder, 190 F.3d 513, 521 (7th Cir. 1999) (quoting
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2)). The Seventh Circuit has explained that
federal courts have a narrow scope for review of state court decisions in
habeas proceedings. Id. at 521-23. In order to obtain a writ, a
"petitioner first must show that the Supreme Court has `clearly
established' the propositions essential to [his] position." Id. at 522.
"Only `clearly established' rules could be applied on collateral attack;
and a rule was not `clearly established' unless it was compelled by
existing precedent." Id. "A petitioner must have a Supreme Court case to
support his claim, and that Supreme Court decision must have clearly
established the relevant principle as of the time of his direct appeal."
The petitioner must also show that "the state court's decision was
either `contrary to' clearly established Supreme Court case law or,
alternatively, was an `unreasonable application' of Supreme Court case
law." Id. The Supreme Court clarified the `contrary to' standard stating
that it applies if the "state court arrive[d] at a conclusion opposite to
that reached by this Court on a question of law" or if the state court
decided a case differently than the Supreme Court has on materially
indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). A
determination of whether a state court decision involved an "unreasonable application" of
clearly established Supreme Court precedent requires a finding that the
state court "identifie[d] the correct governing legal rule from the
Court's cases but unreasonably applie[d] it to the facts of the
particular state prisoner's case." Id. at 407. However, if a state court's
decision was "reasonable, that is `at least minimally consistent with the
facts and circumstances of the case,' [federal courts] shall uphold the
state court ruling, even if it is not well reasoned or fully reasoned, or
even 'if it is one of several equally plausible outcomes.'" Id. (quoting
Hall v. Washington, 106 F.3d 742, 748 (7th Cir. 1997)).
Petitioner claims that he did not receive a meaningful retrospective
hearing to determine whether he was fit to plead in light of the fact
that he was taking certain psychotropic medications at the time of his
guilty plea on October 26, 1993. The standard for fitness to plead guilty
is the same as the standard for competence to stand trial. United States
v. Collins, 949 F.2d 921, 927 (7th Cir. 1991). A criminal defendant has a
due process right not to be tried if he is unable to assist in his own
defense. Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378 (1966). The question of a
defendant's competency to stand trial centers on whether he "has
sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable
degree of rational understanding and whether he has a rational as well
as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Dusky v. United
States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960). Even a mentally ill defendant may be found
competent if he meets this standard. See Medina v. Singletary,
59 F.3d 1095, 1107 (11th Cir. 1995) (stating "neither low intelligence,
mental deficiency, nor bizarre, volafile, and irrational behavior can be
equated with mental incompetence to stand trial."). A defendant is entitled to a hearing on his competency if he raises a
bona fide doubt as to his competency. United States ex rel. Foster v.
DeRobertis, 741 F.2d 1007, 1011 (7th Cir. 1984). To challenge the
procedures used to determine his fitness, a defendant must present facts
"sufficient to positively, unequivocally and clearly generate a real,
substantial and legitimate doubt as to [his] mental capacity to
meaningfully participate and cooperate with counsel during his trial."
Balfour v. Haws, 892 F.2d 556, 562 (7th Cir. 1989).
Petitioner argues that his due process rights were violated because the
retrospective fitness hearing, held more than six years after his plea,
was not a reliable indication of his fitness to plead guilty on October
26, 1993. In support of this argument, petitioner relies on three United
States Supreme Court cases cautioning against retrospective fitness
hearings. See Dusky, 362 U.S. 402 (1960); Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162
(1975); Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375 (1966). However, those cases do
not stand for the proposition that retrospective fitness hearings are
forbidden. Rather they warn of the difficulties of such hearings. The
"mere passage of time" does not make a post-trial fitness hearing
meaningless. United States ex rel. Bilyew v. Franzen, 686 F.2d 1238 (7th
Cir. 1982). The Seventh Circuit has sanctioned the use of retrospective
fitness hearings and stated that such hearings are more tolerable when
contemporaneous psychiatric records are available. Galowski v. Berge,
78 F.3d 1176, 1181 (7th Cir. 1996). In this case, there is
contemporaneous evidence of petitioner's fitness. The petitioner was
examined for fitness at Cermak Hospital on October 25, 1993. The hospital
prepared a report detailing petitioner's examination and nothing in that
report suggested that he was unfit to plead guilty. Furthermore, petitioner's trial counsel, who was in the best position of any layperson
to evaluate his fitness, did not believe that he was unfit. See Galowski
78 F.3d at 1182.
This court agrees with the findings of the state trial court and the
Illinois Appellate Court that petitioner's retrospective fitness hearing
was meaningful. The petitioner has not shown that the Illinois Appellate
Court's ruling was contrary to or unreasonable in light of United States
Supreme Court precedent.
Petitioner's second claim is that the trial court erred in denying his
motion for funds to obtain expert psychiatric assistance. "A petitioner
must have a Supreme Court case to support his claim, and that Supreme
Court decision must have clearly established the relevant principle as of
the time of his direct appeal." Schaff v. Snyder, 190 F.3d at 521.
Petitioner cites absolutely no authority, let alone a United States
Supreme Court case, in support of the proposition that a court has an
obligation to provide funds to employ an independent expert. Although
petitioner did cite to Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), in a state
court brief, that case is not relevant. Ake applies to the appointment of
psychiatric experts in the context of an insanity defense when the
defendant's sanity at the time of the offense is an issue. Here, the
issue is fitness at the time of the plea, and petitioner offers no U.S.
Supreme Court authority that extends Ake's scope from insanity at the
time of the offense to fitness at the time of a plea.
Petitioner's third claim is that his due process rights were violated
because the trial court judge was biased against petitioner. Petitioner
claims that the judge indicated his bias by stating that petitioner was
"attempting to manipulate the system" by withdrawing his guilty plea.
This is not a statement of the court's bias; rather the statement is the
judge's finding as to petitioner's motivation for moving to withdraw his guilty plea. In other words,
the statement is not indicative of the judge's inability to be fair.
ORDERED: Pablo Estrada's petition for writ of habeas corpus is denied.
Judgment denying the petition for writ of habeas corpus will be set forth
on a separate document and entered in the civil docket pursuant to
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 58 and 78(a).
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