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State v. Mann

Court of Appeals of Iowa

October 9, 2019

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
TANER VONGSENGETH MANN, Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Robert B. Hanson, Judge.

         A defendant appeals his convictions for willful injury causing bodily injury, domestic abuse assault with a dangerous weapon, first-degree harassment, child endangerment, and false imprisonment-challenging the finding his competency was restored.

          Angela Campbell of Dickey & Campbell Law Firm, PLC, Des Moines, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Louis S. Sloven, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, JJ.

          Tabor, Judge.

         The State charged Taner Vongsengeth Mann with five crimes stemming from his violent attack on his girlfriend, A.V. The district court originally found Mann incompetent to stand trial and sent him for treatment. In this appeal, Mann challenges the court's later determination treatment had restored his competency. Mann alleges the court denied his right to due process by accepting his guilty plea when he had no "'rational' understanding of what was happening." On our independent review of the record, we conclude Mann failed to show he remained incompetent to stand trial or plead guilty.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         In February 2017, Mann attacked A.V. with a baseball bat. He beat her severely in front of her four-year-old child. For a week, he refused to let A.V. leave the apartment to seek medical attention. A.V. suffered numerous injuries, including broken hands, a broken nose, and loss of sight in one eye. She eventually went to the hospital, where she was interviewed by police.

         In early March 2017, the State charged Mann with willful injury causing serious injury, domestic abuse assault with a dangerous weapon, harassment in the first degree, child endangerment, and false imprisonment. Mann's trial counsel requested and obtained a mental evaluation.

         Psychologist Michael Huston examined Mann in late March. In his report to the court, Dr. Huston noted Mann had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but had not consistently taken medication or followed up with psychiatric treatment. Mann told Dr. Huston he had paranoid thoughts and heard voices "telling him that 'something bad is about to happen.'" Huston described Mann as moving slowly and appearing dazed. He found Mann was "confused, stressed, and tense" and "had difficulty comprehending some questions until they were simplified and restated." Also his speech was "disjointed and disorganized." Dr. Huston found Mann's responses "logical, although paranoid delusional thought was evident in several statements about being watched when he left his house, and when talking about his ex-girlfriend." Mann scored in the "extremely low" range of functioning-with an IQ of 58-and had poor insight into his mental health and legal situation. Dr. Huston opined Mann demonstrated "moderate impairment in ability to understand and appreciate the charge[s] against him and his legal situation," "substantial impairment in his ability to understand legal proceedings," and "substantial impairment in his ability to assist in his own defense."

         The district court decided Mann was unable to assist in his defense and suspended proceedings, sending Mann to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center for treatment to restore his competency. Treating psychiatrist Gary Keller agreed with Dr. Huston's diagnoses of psychotic disorder, amphetamine-use disorder, and cannabis-use disorder. Dr. Keller prescribed medications to treat Mann's psychiatric symptoms.

         In his thirty-day report, dated July 13, 2017, Dr. Keller told the court Mann "did make a good recovery and he has now completed his restoration evaluation." Dr. Keller indicated a report from the evaluator was forthcoming and Mann had been discharged "back into the custody of Polk County."

         Six days later, the court held an unreported hearing on Mann's competency. On the day of the hearing, July 19, the court issued this written ruling:

         The Court having heard the evidence and argument of Counsel finds:

1. By a preponderance of the evidence that the Defendant's competency has been restored in that the Defendant is able to appreciate the charge, understand the proceedings and effectively assist in the Defendant's defense.
2. The placement previously ordered in this matter should be terminated and the criminal proceedings against the Defendant should be reinstated.
3. Defendant is not in need of continued treatment to maintain competency.

         The court reinstated the criminal proceedings against Mann and set a new trial date.

         In August 2017, the court granted a defense request to hire a medical expert to "assist in analyzing the legal significance of [Mann's] mental health issues as they relate to the charges in this case."

         Mann appeared for a plea hearing on Friday, April 6, 2018. Expressing frustration with Mann's reversals and inconsistencies in the pretrial period, the prosecutor stated,

We show up today, and now I'm not sure if it's because he has no memory of the event but admits that there's no reason to doubt what has been contained in the minutes of testimony or the fact that he is just innocent and knows he'll be convicted at trial.
. . . I would need to know which version it is. And to be honest with you, this defendant does not know what he's doing five minutes from the other. We've already gone through this in another one of his cases . . . where we did this cat-and-mouse game all the way up to the day of trial where the jury was waiting upstairs.

         Defense counsel explained Mann's "desire to enter an Alford[1] plea is because he does not remember having engaged in the acts that he is charged with here." Defense counsel asked, "Do you . . . agree that by going to trial you don't stand to benefit anything?" Mann responded, "Well, no." Later, the following exchange occurred:

DEFENSE COUNSEL: And you also have to admit that it is very likely that if all of the witnesses come and testify according to what is in here in black and white that it is very likely that you are going to get found guilty.
MANN: I'm not sure.
Q: You're not sure? Do you believe that if everybody comes in here and testifies to what's said here-I know you're not sure. A: I'm not sure.
Q: I know you're not sure. Do you think it's likely that- A: It's a possibility, yes.
Q: It's a possibility. You recognize that? A: Yeah.
Q: Okay. And you don't have any affirmative defenses to this; right? A: ...

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