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Second Circuit — Competency: United States v. Kerr

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Competency

Right to Counsel — Withdrawal of Plea

United States v. Kerr
11-5462-cr(L); 10-3393-cr(con)
Judges Kearse, Parker and Hall

Background: United States customs authorizes arrested the defendant, a Canadian citizen, after his vehicle was searched at the U.S.-Canadian border. The search resulted in the discovery of thousands of pills carrying MDMA, a Schedule I controlled substance. The defendant had fired his first two appointed attorneys and insisted on pressing several ill-advised theories of defense and underwent a court-ordered competency examination. He eventually pled guilty midway through the trial. Following the plea, he ceased communicating with counsel and sought to withdraw his plea. The defendant argued that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by the denial of his multiple post-plea requests for an attorney to help him withdraw his plea.

Ruling: The Second Circuit affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentencing to 121 months of incarceration. The court held that the district court was not required to hold a second competency hearing as his behavior was not erratic, only that he was obstinate and belligerent. Much of the difficulty his defense counsel had was due to the defendant’s refusal to meet with his counsel. The Second Circuit also found that there was no abuse of discretion in denying the defendant’s requests to withdraw his plea as the defendant had effectively fired numerous prior attorneys, pled guilty with the assistance of counsel midway through trial and then resumed acting as his own attorney days later.

Katherin Alfieri for the defendant-appellant; Rajit S. Dosanjh, assistant United States attorney, for the appellee