Friday, July 31, 2020
Court of Appeal:
Presiding Justice Rubin Dissents, Says He Would Order Evidentiary Hearing for Man Who Killed Drug Dealer in 1987, at Age 16, Was Diagnosed in 2015 As Having Been Insane Since Age 10
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday, in a 2-1 opinion, that a prison inmate who pled guilty in 1987 to a second degree murder, committed a week after he turned 16, and was diagnosed in 2015 as having been insane since the age of 10, failed to act with the requisite diligence in seeking a writ of coram nobis in 2019.
Justice Lamar Baker of Div. Seven wrote the majority opinion, in which Justice Carl H. Moor joined. Presiding Justice Laurence D. Rubin dissented.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Laura L. Leasecke had denied the petition, filed by Keith Brown, as a pro per. Div. Seven’s majority did not affirm her order; rather, Baker declared:
“There being no prima facie case for coram nobis relief, we shall order the appeal dismissed.”
Brown had fatally shot a drug dealer after their intended transaction soured. He was sentenced to 17 years to life in prison.
In 2015, Dr. Ewa Gosek, a psychiatrist and neurologist, examined Brown and determined that he had brain damage and had suffered from schizophrenia since the age of 10.
Brown, in his 2019 petition, said he would not have pled guilty if he had known that he had an insanity defense.
Baker noted in Friday’s opinion, which was not certified for publication, that requirements for coram nobis relief include newly discovered evidence and diligence in pursuing the remedy. He wrote:
“[T]here is no reason to believe defendant could not have discovered, with the exercise of due diligence in the more than three decades between his conviction and the filing of his motion, what he represents are serious mental health problems….Moreover, even accepting defendant’s assertion that he did not discover his allegedly serious mental health condition until Gosek’s examination in 2015, that is four years before he sought coram nobis relief—still much too long to be consistent with a prima facie finding of diligence.”
“Furthermore, we think it significant that even if defendant could make a prima facie finding of diligence, a trial court would be presented with the unenviable and perhaps impossible task of making a retrospective assessment of defendant’s mental status some 30 years earlier—a process disfavored in the law.”
Rubin, in his dissent, pointed out that Brown had represented himself in the writ proceeding and observed that his petition was “replete with non sequiturs and irrelevancies.” He commented:
“In light of his (so far) uncontroverted brain damage, it would not be surprising that additional facts and considerations might weigh on the merits of a coram nobis petition. I, for one, cannot say at this stage that Brown made no efforts to secure further medical information—such as the neuropsychological examination required to confirm the preliminary assessment of his brain damage—or obtain legal assistance. On the contrary, we might reasonably infer that Brown’s lack of counsel, his lack of a high school education, and his severe mental deficiencies contributed to his delay.”
He went on to say:
“[T]he question of Brown’s due diligence is a fact-intensive inquiry the trial court is best-suited to undertake. The inquiry should be at an evidentiary hearing at which Brown, would be entitled to appointed counsel….At this juncture, we are tasked only with determining whether he has made a prima facie case of such diligence.”
The presiding justice said the majority might be right that a current assessment of Brown’s mental state in 1987 might not be feasible, but remarked that the case might be a rare one where such a task can be successfully undertaken.
“In my view Brown has made a prima facie case of due diligence and the other requirements for coram nobis relief,” Rubin said. “Accordingly, I would reverse the trial court’s order, and direct the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing at which Brown may be represented by counsel.”The case is People v. Brown, B302652.
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