Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Court Orders New Hearing for Convicted Psychiatrist
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ordered a new competency hearing for a former psychiatrist who pled guilty to drug charges.
A divided panel ruled that U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips of the Central District of California erred in sentencing Joel Stanley Dreyer to 10 years in prison without first holding an evidentiary hearing to determine his mental competence.
Dreyer, who had an office in Murrieta, was arrested in 2009 and charged with 30 counts of conspiring to possess and distribute controlled substances. He had, according to published reports, been previously fired from a job as staff psychiatrist at a residential treatment center.
He eventually surrendered his medical license and pled guilty on two counts.
His arrest followed investigations by local police, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Medical Board of California. Dreyer admitted that he provided a number of persons, who generally paid him $100 each, with prescriptions for Oxycontin and other painkillers, without taking medical histories or conducting examinations.
Reports from four experts said the doctor, who was 73 when he was sentenced in 2010, suffered from frontotemporal dementia. The defense argued that the condition should result in sentencing leniency, but did not ask for a competency hearing.
But Judge Stephen Reinhardt, in an opinion for the appeals court joined by Judge Kim M. Wardlaw, said that given the expert’s opinions, statements by family members indicating that Dreyer had undergone a massive personality change around the time of the charged crimes, counsel’s statement at sentencing that the defendant would not allocute due to his mental condition, and Dreyer’s age and lack of a previous criminal history, it was “plain error” for the district judge not to order a competency hearing on her own motion.
“The cases in which this court has concluded that there was no basis for the trial court to doubt the defendant’s competency, including all those cited by the government, involve substantially less evidence to suggest incompetency than the case before us,” the judge wrote.
Reinhardt went on to say that the case must be reassigned to a different judge, because Phillips’ comments during the prior proceedings suggest “she has already determined, without the benefit of a hearing or a full consideration of the submitted medical evidence, that Dreyer is competent and that a full evidentiary hearing is unnecessary.”
Dissenting Judge Consuelo Callahan argued that the judge need not have doubted the defendant’s competency since none of the four experts did, and the fact that Dreyer, although he chose not to allocute, did address the judge after she pronounced sentence and indicated that he understood and respected the court.
“Even if the trial judge might have issued a sua sponte order for further psychiatric and medical evaluations, failure to do so was not plain error,” Callahan wrote. “Moreover, the majority’s unrequested reassignment of the case on remand to another judge is contrary to our norm of remanding to the original sentencing judge and is unsupported in fact or law.”
Bureau of Prison records show that Dreyer is now confined to the high-security Tucson U.S. Penitentiary and is due for release in 2019.
The appeal was argued by Pamela O’Leary Tower, with Roger J. Rosen assisting on the brief, for the defendant and Assistant U.S. Attorney Antoine F. Raphael for the government.
The case is United States v. Dreyer, 10-50631.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company