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State v. Dixon

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

September 30, 2016

STATE OF MARYLAND
v.
LARRY DIXON

          Berger, Reed, Shaw Geter, JJ.

          OPINION

          Berger, J.

         In this case, we consider the extent to which a circuit court may dictate the conditions of detention for an individual who is awaiting a psychological examination to determine his or her competency to stand trial and his or her criminal responsibility for the charged offenses under Maryland Code (2001, 2008 Repl. Vol., 2015 Supp.) §§3-105 and 3-111 of the Criminal Procedure ("C.P.") Article.

         The State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene ("The Department"), appeals from the January 13 and January 14, 2016 orders of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City ordering the immediate transportation of Larry Dixon, appellant, for in-patient admission to Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center ("Perkins"), the psychiatric facility where his competency and criminal responsibility evaluations would be completed. In their timely appeal, the Department questions whether the circuit court's orders violated the plain language of C.P. §§3-105 and 3-111.

         Through counsel, Dixon has filed a motion to dismiss the Department's appeal, asserting that because the Department has already completed his competency evaluation, found him to be incompetent to stand trial at this time, and committed him for ongoing in-patient psychiatric care, the question presented by the Department is moot.

         A case is moot when there is "no longer an existing controversy when the case comes before the Court or when there is no longer an effective remedy the Court could grant." Suter v. Stuckey, 402 Md. 211, 219-20 (2007) (citing, among other cases, Dep't of Human Res. v. Roth, 398 Md. 137, 143 (2007)). As a general rule, courts do not entertain moot controversies. Suter, 402 Md. at 219. There are, however, circumstances in which this Court will address the merits of a moot case. The first is where the controversy, even though moot at the time of judicial review, "is capable of repetition but evading review." Sanchez v. Potomac Abatement, Inc., 198 Md.App. 436, 443 (2011). The second exception "allows us to express our views on the merits of a moot case to prevent harm to the public interest." Id. at 443 (footnote omitted).

         Because the relevant statutes specify that competency and responsibility examinations must be completed within a certain time after they are ordered, [1] it is most unlikely that appellate review would ever be accomplished before a court-ordered examination was completed in this case or in any other. C.P. §3-105(d)(2); C.P. §3-111(c)(2). Consequently, we are persuaded that the issue presented is capable of repetition yet evading review and is, therefore, not moot. [2] The motion to dismiss is denied.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On the evening of July 3, 2015, the police responded to a report of a shooting at 3429 West Caton Avenue in Baltimore City. They were met by Dixon who, when asked where the injured person was, appeared to be very agitated. When one of the officers requested that Dixon calm down, Dixon responded, "How can I not be excited? I just shot someone."

         Upon entering the residence, the police discovered a man (later identified as Keith Glascoe), lying on the floor in the kitchen. He had been shot in the left side. Glascoe was transported by ambulance to Shock Trauma Center, but later died as a result of his injuries. The police recovered a shotgun from a second-floor bedroom of the residence and a shotgun pellet from the kitchen floor.

         Dixon was arrested and charged with first and second degree murder and first degree assault. From July of 2015 to January of 2016, Dixon was incarcerated in general population housing at the detention center. While in detention, Dixon was seen four times by a mental health clinician. Dixon reported that he was experiencing depression, anxiety, and interrupted sleep and that he had stopped taking his prescribed medication. Dixon's family told Dixon's attorney that Dixon "minimized his mental health issues, was paranoid about correctional officers . . . [and] his court proceedings, and had unrealistic beliefs about the criminal justice system." Dixon's wife said that, prior to his arrest, he had become increasingly paranoid and was hearing voices.

         On December 16, 2015, the circuit court entered an order requiring the Department to examine Dixon for criminal responsibility and competency to stand trial. A psychologist employed by the Department performed an initial evaluation of Dixon pursuant to the court's order. In a letter dated January 8, 2016, the Department psychologist requested an additional sixty days to allow the Department to conduct a more extensive evaluation of Dixon's competency and criminal responsibility. The Department psychologist stated that she had "made arrangements with the Pretrial Evaluation Unit of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center for Mr. Dixon's further evaluation" and noted that "[d]epending on the hospital's assessment of the defendant's clinical condition and need for inpatient psychiatric care, the evaluation may be conducted on an inpatient or outpatient basis."

         The circuit court considered the psychologist's letter at a hearing on January 13, 2016. As required by C.P. §3-105(d), the court found good cause to extend the time for the Department to conduct its examination of Dixon's competency to stand trial. The court also issued two orders on January 13, 2016. The first order, issued in accordance with C.P. §3-105, extended the period for Dixon's competency examination and provided, in pertinent part, "because of the apparent severity of the mental disorder . . . the Court has found that the Defendant would be endangered by confinement in a correctional facility." The order required the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services ("DPSCS") to immediately transport Dixon to Perkins, where he "shall be admitted as an inpatient and remain hospitalized until further order of [the] Court."

         The second order, issued in accordance with C.P. §3-111, extended the period for Dixon's criminal responsibility examination and required the Department to immediately transport Dixon to Perkins. In an order signed on January 14, 2016, the court clarified that DCPSS was to transport Dixon to Perkins on "Tuesday, January 19, 2016 at 10:00 for admission and treatment[, ]" and that Dixon was to remain at Perkins "until further order of this Court." The Department timely filed a notice of appeal on February 12, 2016. In a report dated April 8, 2016, the Department concluded that Dixon was not competent to stand trial.

         ANALYSIS

         The Department contends that the court's orders usurped the role of the Department by dictating the timing and conditions of Dixon's confinement before, during, and after the Department's evaluations of his competency and criminal responsibility. The Department asserts that the plain language of the relevant statutes requires that, as a default, criminal defendants will be confined in a correctional facility until the Department is able to conduct the ordered competency and responsibility examinations. The Department maintains that the statutes commit to the discretion of the Department all determinations regarding when and where court-ordered examinations will be performed and grant the Department the discretion to determine whether to retain a criminal defendant after he or she is examined or to return the defendant to the court or a correctional facility. The Department concludes that the circuit court overstepped its authority and violated the plain language of the relevant statutes.

         "The interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which we consider de novo." Harrison-Solomon v. State, 442 Md. 254, 265 (2015)). The Court of Appeals, specifically addressing the application of Title 3 of the Criminal Procedure Article, has provided the following ...


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