Halder v. Smith
Memorandum Opinion: Petitioner's objections to the report are overruled. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is denied and this case will be dismissed with prejudice. Further, the Court certifies that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith and that there is no basis upon which to issue a certificate of appealability. (Related Doc # 21 ). Judge Sara Lioi on 9/14/2012. (P,J)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
TERRY TIBALS, Warden,
CASE NO. 1:09CV1701
JUDGE SARA LIOI
On July 22, 2009, Petitioner Biswanath Halder filed with this Court a
petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1.) The
petition was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Vernelis K. Armstrong for the
preparation of a Report and Recommendation. The report recommends that this Court
dismiss petitioner’s application for habeas relief. (Doc. No. 21.) Petitioner has filed
objections to this recommendation. (Doc. No. 22.).
Because Halder objected only to the portion of the Magistrate Judge’s
report addressing the state courts’ rulings relating to his request to represent himself at
trial and his competency to stand trial, the remainder of the report—including its account
of the factual and procedural history of the case—is hereby accepted as written. Thus, the
Court will only provide a brief review of the facts, as found by the state appellate court,
sufficient to provide context for Halder’s objections.
The charges against petitioner stem from a May 9, 2003 shooting rampage
at the Case Western Reserve University School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
According to the facts determined by the state appellate court, petitioner entered the Peter
B. Lewis building, on the CWRU campus, shooting and killing the first individual he
encountered, and taking several other individuals hostage before finally surrendering to
police. Following his arrest, petitioner was charged, in a 338 count indictment, with
aggravated murder, felony murder, mass murder, attempted murder, kidnapping,
aggravated burglary, terrorism, and unlawful possession of a dangerous ordnance. The
aggravated murder, aggravated burglary, terrorism, and kidnapping counts included
The trial court conducted multiple competency hearings on February 23,
24 and March 21, 22, and 23, 2005. At these hearings, three experts in the mental health
field—Dr. Barbara Bergman, Dr. James Eisenberg and Dr. John Fabian—testified. Dr.
Bergman met with petitioner on five separate occasions lasting approximately 14 hours,
including one meeting a mere two weeks before she was to testify. She opined that
petitioner suffered from a severe personality disorder, but found no evidence that he
suffered from a major mental disorder, which led her to conclude that he was capable of
assisting with his defense. In reaching this conclusion, she recalled that petitioner was
capable of discussing in detail the events leading up to the shooting, as well as the
Dr. Eisenberg also met with petitioner five times, and his encounters with
petitioner lasted approximately 11 hours. In his preliminary report, he also diagnosed
petitioner with a personality disorder, and concluded that petitioner was competent to
stand trial. He testified, however, that after subsequent meetings with petitioner, he
changed his diagnosis to include persecutory and grandiose symptoms, and concluded
that petitioner’s delusional-based conspiracy beliefs made it nearly impossible for him to
meaningfully assist his counsel with his defense.
Dr. Fabian also testified that he believed that petitioner was suffering from
both delusional and personality disorders, and that he was incapable of rationally aiding
his attorneys. Like Dr. Eisenberg, Dr. Fabian concluded that petitioner was incompetent
to stand trial. On two separate occasions, however, based upon the testimony of another
expert witness (Dr. Bergman), the trial court ruled that petitioner was competent to stand
On November 9, 2005, at a hearing to disqualify his second set of
appointed attorneys and have a third set appointed, and five days before the trial was set
to begin, petitioner responded to the trial court’s denial of his motion to disqualify
counsel, “In this case from now onward, I want to proceed pro se.”1 Treating Halder’s
comment as a request to represent himself, the trial court questioned petitioner regarding
this request, and ultimately took a recess for the purpose of reviewing case law relevant
The Eight District Court of Appeals found that:
Prior to this request, Halder had made various motions from September 2003 to
November 9, 2005; he moved to disqualify and to replace his lawyers, but never to
proceed pro se. Following the [initial] competency ruling, the first set of lawyers
withdrew and the trial court appointed new counsel. On September 1, 2005, Halder
moved to disqualify the second set of lawyers.
State v. Halder, No. 87874, 2007 Ohio App. LEXIS 5258, at ¶ 43 (Ohio Ct. App. Eighth Dist.
Nov. 8, 2007).
to the right to self-representation. The colloquy, set out in detail in both the appellate
court’s decision and the Magistrate’s report, did not contain a discussion regarding the
risks associated with proceeding to trial pro se, but, instead, focused on petitioner’s
reason for making the request.2 The following day (November 10, 2005), the trial court
denied petitioner’s request, finding that it was untimely and that it was made for the
purpose of delay.
Petitioner proceeded to trial, represented by counsel, on 202 of the original
counts in the indictment. On December 14, 2005, the jury returned guilty verdicts against
petitioner on the charges of aggravated murder, with a capital specification, as well as
aggravated burglary, kidnapping, and unlawful possession of a dangerous ordnance. At
the conclusion of the subsequent penalty phase, the jury returned a sentencing
recommendation of life without the possibility of parole. On February 17, 2006, the trial
court sentenced Halder to life imprisonment without parole.
Petitioner appealed his conviction to the intermediate Ohio appellate court,
raising numerous assignments of error, including the denial of the right to selfrepresentation and error in the determination of competency. The state appellate court
affirmed petitioner’s conviction and sentence, finding the assignments of error to be
without merit. Relevant to the present petition is the appellate court’s determination that
In response to the trial court’s inquiry, petitioner testified that: “I made myself very clear that my
attorneys do not know the background of the case, have done no discovery whatsoever. They have not
contacted a single witness, despite the fact that I know numerous people around the world. And they have
not done anything. Therefore, I will be much better off having [sic] pro se than having these lawyers.”
Halder, 2007 Ohio App. LEXIS 5258, at ¶ 46.
the trial court did not violate petitioner’s right to self-representation, and did not err in
finding petitioner competent to stand trial.
Halder now petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus to remedy two
alleged constitutional violations. (Doc. No. 1.) Specifically, petitioner alleges that: (1) the
trial court erred in depriving him of his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself; and
(2) the trial court erred in finding him competent when he had proven by a preponderance
of the evidence that he was not capable of assisting in his own defense. (Id. at 5-6.).
Standard of Review
Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States
District Court provides, “[t]he judge must determine de novo any proposed finding or
recommendation to which objection is made. The judge may accept, reject, or modify any
proposed finding or recommendation.”
With respect to challenges to the determinations made by the state courts
in petitioner’s case, this Court has a very limited scope of review. In § 2254(d) of the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Congress enacted a rebuttable
presumption that a federal court may not grant habeas relief from a state court conviction
if the last state court adjudicated “on the merits” the same federal law question that is
presented to the federal court. Congress further created two exceptions to that bar.
Specifically, a federal court may grant habeas relief where the state court adjudication is
either “contrary to” or “involved an unreasonable application of” settled federal law, as
decided by the United States Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Habeas relief is
also available where the adjudication of the claim “resulted in a decision that was based
on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the
State court proceeding.” § 2254(d)(2).
A state court’s legal decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal
law “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme]
Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the
Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor,
529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). Moreover, a state court’s legal determination will be deemed
an “unreasonable application” of clearly established federal law “if the state court
identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court’s decisions but
unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner’s case.” Id.
“A federal court, however, may not find a state adjudication to be
unreasonable ‘simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the
relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or
incorrectly. Rather that application must also be unreasonable.’ ” King v. Bobby, 433 F.3d
483, 489-90 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting Williams, 529 F.3d at 411). In making this inquiry, a
federal court must “presume that a factual determination by a state court is correct unless
convincing contrary evidence exists.” Id. (citations omitted). As to the second prong of §
2254(d), “it is not enough for the petitioner to show some unreasonable determination of
fact; rather, the petitioner must show that the resulting state court decision was ‘based on’
that unreasonable determination.” Rice v. White, 660 F.3d 242, 250 (6th Cir. 2011); see §
The Court has reviewed the report de novo, as well as the briefs and
supporting material submitted by the parties, and the objections to the report raised by
petitioner. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge’s
report in part and dismiss the petition.
Law and Analysis
The Right to Self-Representation
With regard to petitioner’s first claim for relief, the Magistrate Judge
advised a finding that petitioner’s request to proceed without counsel was an “informed”
decision. In reaching this conclusion, the Magistrate Judge noted that petitioner
referenced the leading case on the right to self-representation in criminal proceedings:
Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975). Petitioner having apparently conducted
research on the question of self-representation, the Magistrate Judge reasoned that “[a]
reasonable person could conclude that petitioner executed a valid waiver of his right to
counsel and that he knew, in part, the dynamics of self representation.” (Report at 11.)
Ultimately, however, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the first assignment of
error be rejected because the trial court reasonably denied the request as equivocal and
untimely and “knowingly and voluntarily made for the sole purpose of delaying the start
of the trial.” (Id. at 14.).
A criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to be represented by
counsel, and, if he chooses, to forego representation by counsel and present his own
defense without the assistance of counsel. Faretta, 422 U.S. at 814. These rights are
correlative, and “[b]y electing to exercise his constitutional right to present his own
defense, a defendant necessarily waives his constitutional right to be represented by
counsel.” United States v. Cromer, 389 F.3d 662, 680 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing United
States v. Mosely, 810 F.2d 93, 97 (6th Cir. 1987)). “For the accused to represent himself,
however, he must ‘knowingly and intelligently’ forego the ‘traditional benefits associated
with the right to counsel.’ ” United States v. Edelmann, 458 F.3d 791, 808 (8th Cir. 2006)
(quoting Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835). Mere expressions of dissatisfaction with counsel will
not be interpreted as a request for self-representation but will be seen as an appeal to the
trial court’s discretion to substitute counsel. United States v. Martin, 25 F.3d 293, 296
(6th Cir. 1994). As such, a request to self-represent must be unequivocally made. Id. at
The right to self-representation, however, has limits. Martinez v. Court of
Appeals of Cal., 528 U.S. 152, 161 (2000). In particular, the right to represent oneself
must be made timely. Id. at 162; United States v. Mackovich, 209 F.3d 1227, 1236 (10th
Cir. 2000); Martin, 25 F.3d at 295-96. In recognizing Faretta’s right to serve as his own
counsel, the Supreme Court noted that he had requested self-representation “weeks before
the trial . . . .” Faretta, 422 U.S. at 835; see Martin, 25 F.3d at 295-96 (citing Robards v.
Rees, 789 F.2d 379, 383 (6th Cir. 1886) (“Even where the right to self-representation is
clearly invoked, it must be done so in a timely manner, and courts will balance any such
assertion against considerations of judicial delay.”)).
The requirement that any such request be made in a timely fashion serves
both to ensure the swift administration of justice, and to guard against the strategic use of
such requests to frustrate a trial court’s efforts to bring cases to trial. “The right [to self8
representation] does not exist  to be used as a tactic for delay, for disruption, for
distortion of the system, or for manipulation of the trial process.” United States v.
Frazier-El, 204 F.3d 553, 560 (4th Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted). Trial courts
must, therefore, be allowed “to distinguish between a manipulative effort to present
particular arguments and a sincere desire to dispense with the benefits of counsel.” Id.
(holding that the district court was justified, when confronted with the defendant’s
“vacillation between his request for substitute counsel and his request for selfrepresentation,” in determining that the defendant should proceeded with appointed
After acknowledging the Sixth Amendment right to self-representation,
the state appellate court determined that the trial judge made a sufficient inquiry into
petitioner’s request to release his counsel and represent himself, noting that the trial judge
had heard from petitioner, his lawyers, and the state. State v. Halder, 2007 Ohio App.
LEXIS 6258, at ¶¶ 53-4 (Ohio Ct. App. Eighth Dist. Nov. 8, 2007). The appellate court
further found that the request was equivocal, noting that it had come two and one half
years after the indictment had been issued, and immediately after the trial court had
denied petitioner’s request to discharge his second set of attorneys and appoint a third
lawyer. Id. at ¶¶ 54-55. The appellate court also concluded that the record supported the
trial court’s factual determination that the request, made five days before trial was to
commence, was made for purpose of delay. Id. at ¶ 57.
The report urges a finding that the factual determinations made by the
state trial and appellate courts as to equivocation and timeliness of petitioner’s request do
not represent an unreasonable application of clearly established law. Petitioner takes issue
with this recommendation, arguing that the “Magistrate Judge has relied heavily on the
fact that Mr. Halder had made no prior complaints regarding his second defense team,
while giving little weight to the fact that Mr. Halder made an unequivocal request to
proceed pro se five days before his trial was set to commence and just after his
discontentment with his defense team arose.” (Doc. No. 22, Petitioner’s Objections at 4,
emphasis in original.).
“Although a self-representation request is typically timely if made prior to
the selection and swearing of the jury, th[e Sixth Circuit] has held that such a request i[s]
not timely ‘when the prosecution makes an affirmative showing that the defendant’s
request for self-representation is merely a tactic to secure a delay in the proceeding.’ ”
Lewis v. Robinson, 67 Fed. App’x 914, 919 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Robards, 789 F.2d at
383)); see Seaton v. Jabe, 1993 U.S. App. LEXIS 336, at *11 (6th Cir. Jan. 5, 1993)
(same). In Robards, the Sixth Circuit found that the defendant’s request for selfrepresentation, made on the day of trial and after the clerk had called the roll of jurors,
was untimely, noting that the defendant had not previously “expressed any displeasure”
with his counsel, and that the granting of the request would have “impermissibly delayed
the commencement of the trial.” Robards, 789 F.2d at 383-84; see Lewis, 67 Fed. App’x
at 920 (request to self-represent on the day of trial was not a good faith assertion of his
Faretta right, and amounted to “a last-ditch effort to delay the proceedings”).
In the present case, petitioner made his request to self-represent five days
before trial. Given the fact that this was a capital case with hundreds of charges, any
request to permit petitioner to develop his own defense would inevitably have lead to a
delay in the proceedings, as petitioner would have required additional time in which to
prepare a defense to the very serious charges against him.3 Likewise, the Court cannot
say that the state courts acted objectively unreasonable in relying upon the fact that in
two-and-one half years, petitioner had never expressed a desire to proceed pro se, and
only did so after the trial court rejected his latest request to disqualify appointed counsel
and appoint new counsel, in concluding that the request was untimely and offered merely
as a stratagem for delay.4 See e.g., United States v. Edelmann, 458 F.3d 791 (8th Cir.
2006) (request to self-represent made 4 days before trial was properly denied as a delay
tactic); United States v. Smith, 413 F.3d 1253, 1279 (10th Cir. 2005) (request made 6
days before trial was untimely); United States v. Mackovic, 209 F.3d 1227, 1237 (10th
Cir. 2000) (request made 6 to 10 days before armed robbery trial was made for purposes
The Court also finds that the state appellate court’s determination that
petitioner’s request to self-represent was equivocal was neither contrary to nor an
Petitioner cites Moore v. Haviland, 476 F. Supp. 2d 768 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (request to self-represent,
made during the trial, was timely), aff’d, Moore v. Haviland, 531 F.3d 393 (6th Cir. 2008). He argues that,
like the defendant in Moore, he raised his desire to self-represent in a timely fashion after the need to do so
became clear. Moore is factually distinguishable because, there, the state trial court did not deny the request
to self-represent on the ground of timeliness, the petitioner asserted his desire to proceed pro se forcefully
and continuously, the request did not come on the heels of a motion for the appointment of new counsel,
and there is no evidence that the petitioner had sought other continuances.
Petitioner also takes issue with the fact that the Magistrate Judge relied, in part, on the fact that petitioner
had previously sought and obtained several continuances before seeking to self-represent. Courts, however,
have properly considered such past conduct in determining whether the request to self-represent is merely
an “attempt to delay the trial and abuses the judicial process.” Mackovich, 209 F.3d at 1237 (relying on the
fact that the defendant had sought and received three prior trial continuances); see, e.g., Edelmann, 458
F.3d at 809 (district court properly relied on fact that there had been several previous continuances in the
case to find that the purpose of the request to self-represent was to delay the start of trial).
unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, nor rested upon an
unreasonable determination of the facts. Petitioner’s request came immediately after the
trial court denied petitioner’s request for the appointment of new counsel. While the trial
court did not conduct a full Faretta hearing, the trial judge did inquire as to the reasons
for the request, and the petitioner indicated that his request was born out of his general
dissatisfaction with his counsel’s representation and his belief that he would be “much
better off having [sic] pro se than having these lawyers.” Given the context in which the
request was made, and the fact that numerous previous requests to have new counsel
appointed had been made without a request to proceed pro se, it was not unreasonable for
the appellate court to conclude that petitioner did not unequivocally assert his right to
self-represent. See, e.g., United States v. Jackson, 05-4170, 304 Fed. App’x 424, 426 (6th
Cir. 2008) (distinguishing Moore, and finding equivocation where the defendant’s
“comment concerning pro se representation was essentially an expression of
dissatisfaction with his then attorney and not an ‘unequivocal demand’ sufficient to
require a Faretta hearing or establish the right to self-representation . . .”); Robards, 789
F.2d at (the defendant did not “exhibit a genuine inclination to conduct his own
defense” where the defendant’s request to “just take it by myself” was tied to his
displeasure with his counsel’s representation).
In light of its rulings as to timeliness and equivocation, the Court finds that
it need not adopt the Magistrate Judge’s determination that petitioner’s request was made
voluntarily and knowingly. Because the decision to proceed pro se necessarily implies
the waiver of the Sixth Amendment right to be represented by counsel, United States v.
Cromer, 389 F.3d 662, 680 (6th Cir. 2004), a trial court should advise the defendant of
the “dangers and disadvantages of self-representation, so that the record will establish
that ‘he knows what he is doing and his choice is made with eyes open.’ ” Faretta, 422
U.S. at 835 (quoting Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.S. 269, 279 (1942)).
The inquiry envisioned in Faretta, however, is “only required where a criminal defendant
has clearly, unequivocally, and timely asserted his right to proceed pro se.” Moore v.
Haviland, 476 F. Supp. 2d 768. 787 (N.D. Ohio 2006) (citing Cromer, 389 F.3d at 68283), aff’d, Moore v. Haviland, 531 F.3d 393 (6th Cir. 2008); Jackson, 304 Fed. App’x at
428. . Finding the state courts’ determinations on the issues of equivocation and
timeliness to be neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of federal law, nor
the result of an unreasonable determination of the facts before these courts, the Court
need not determine whether petitioner fully appreciated the perils of proceeding pro se.5
Competency at Trial
In his second objection, petitioner challenges the Magistrate Judge’s
recommendation that this Court defer to the trial judge’s decision that petitioner was
competent to stand trial. Petitioner complains that the Magistrate Judge misconstrued his
“competency-to-stand-trial issue” as a challenge to the weight of the evidence offered at
the competency hearings. He posits that the state court of appeals misapplied federal law,
and insists that “there was no reliable, credible evidence that Mr. Halder was capable of
rationally assisting in his own defense . . . .” (Doc. No. 22 at 9.) The Court rejects both
The Court also questions the Magistrate Judge’s conclusion that the fact that petitioner was aware of the
Faretta decision demonstrated that his waiver was voluntary and knowing. That he was familiar with a
Supreme Court decision that identified the need to apprise a defendant of the risks of self-representation
does not necessarily mean that he understood the contours of those risks.
A defendant’s competency to stand trial depends on whether the defendant
“has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of
rational understanding--and whether he has a rational as well as a factual understanding
of the proceedings against him.” Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402, 402 (1960) (per
curiam); see Mackey v. Dutton, 217 F.3d 399, 410 (6th Cir. 2000). The conviction of a
legally incompetent defendant, or the failure of a trial court to provide an adequate
competency determination, is a violation of the defendant’s due process right to a fair
trial. See Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 178-83 (1975) (trial court’s failure to make
sufficient inquiry into defendant’s competence and give adequate weight to defendant’s
suicide attempt and other irrational behavior violated due process); Mackay, 217 F.3d at
411; see also Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 385-86 (1966) (trial court’s failure to
conduct competency hearing in light of defendant’s “pronounced irrational behavior”
violated due process).
Applying the test announced in Supreme Court’s decision in Dusky, the
state appellate court ruled that there was competent, credible evidence to support the trial
court’s determination that petitioner had the present ability to consult with counsel with a
reasonable degree of rational understanding.6 Halder, 2007 Ohio App. LEXIS 5258, at ¶
The record before the Court indicates, and petitioner does not argue otherwise in his objections, that the
first part of the Dusky standard—a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings—was not in
dispute. At the competency hearing, defense counsel specifically indicated that the “question we have, you
well know, is whether or not Mr. Halder can assist in his defense.” (Doc. No. 7-4 at 49.) In fact, defense
counsel stipulated that “the first prong [of the competency standard] is not an issue.” (Doc. No. 7-5 at 983.)
Nonetheless, the state appellate court noted that Dr. Bergman testified that petitioner was capable of
understanding the nature of the proceedings and the significance of the charges against him. (Doc. No. 7-4
40. The appellate court observed that Dr. Bergman, who opined that petitioner was
competent to stand trial, testified that petitioner was able to provide detailed answers to
questions that were pertinent to his present ability to assist in his defense, including
questions relating to the events leading up to the shooting, and the shooting, itself. The
appellate court also noted that Dr. Fabian, though unconvinced of petitioner’s
competency, also acknowledged that petitioner was able to provide detailed answers to
the questions he posed. Id. at ¶¶ 34-35 While acknowledging that Dr. Fabian and Dr.
Eisenberg both concluded that petitioner was not competent, the appellate court
underscored the fact that Dr. Eisenberg had not seen petitioner for more than a year prior
to taking the stand at the competency hearing, and that he had changed his opinion as to
competency without personally reevaluating petitioner. Id. at ¶ 33.
A defendant’s competency is an issue of fact, to which deference must be
paid. Filiaggi v. Bagley, 445 F.3d 851, 858 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Thompson v. Keohane,
516 U.S. 99, 111 (1995)). Since a defendant’s competency is a question of fact, a federal
habeas review is limited to determining whether the state court’s decision “involved an
unreasonable application of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court
proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2); see, generally, United States v. Morrison, 153 F.3d
34, 46 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and citations omitted) (“Where the record on
competency may plausibly be read to indicate the defendant may not have been
competent, we still defer to the judgment of the [trial] court, which has the benefit of
examining [the defendant] and hearing from the fact and expert witnesses in person.”).
An applicant has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness of a state court’s
factual findings by clear and convincing evidence. See § 2254(e)(1); Adams v. Hoeberlin,
No. 08-5230, 404 Fed. App’x 11, 13 (6th Cir. 2010).
The state trial court’s determination was made after the trial judge had
ordered the preparation of expert reports and conducted numerous hearings, where she
entertained testimony from mental health experts. While petitioner claims that there was
no reliable, credible evidence that he was capable of assisting in his defense, Drs.
Bergman and Fabian both testified that petitioner was able to recount the details of the
case. According to Dr. Bergman, this was evidence that petitioner was capable of
consulting with his attorneys with “a reasonable degree of rational understanding.”
Halder, 2007 Ohio App. LEXIS 5258, at ¶ 36. Further, while the testifying experts
disagreed on the ultimate issue of competency, the Court cannot find that the trial court’s
determination that Dr. Bergman’s opinion was more credible is not entitled to deference.
See United States v. Villegas, 899 F.2d 1324, 1341 (2d Cir. 1990) (stating that a trial
court’s clear choice as between two permissible views on the evidence of competency
“cannot be deemed clearly erroneous”); see also Mackay, 217 F.3d at 414 (certain expert
reports that were suggestive of incompetency were insufficient to overturn conviction on
habeas petition where the trial court’s determination of competency was fairly supported
by the record); see, generally, General Elec. Co. v. Joiner, 522 U.S. 136, 143 (1997)
(stating that deference to a trial court’s assessment of expert testimony is “the hallmark of
abuse of discretion review”).
While petitioner seems to acknowledge that the trial court was within its
authority to choose from among conflicting expert opinions on the issue of competency,
he suggests that all three experts “agreed that Mr. Halder’s mental health issues made
him approach his case irrationally.” (Objections at 9.) Petitioner’s view of the evidence
before the trial court is not entirely accurate. Dr. Bergman, for example, testified that
petitioner suffered from a personality disorder that included prominent paranoid features;
explaining that a person who suffers from such a condition “feels like he got a raw deal in
life.” (Doc. No. 7-4 at 445-6.) However, she specifically distinguished the existence of a
paranoid personality disorder from a delusional mental illness.7 She also testified that,
based upon her conversations with defense counsel, it was her understanding that
petitioner had not cooperated with counsel. Notwithstanding this observation and her
finding of a personality disorder, Dr. Bergman concluded that petitioner retained the
ability to work with counsel, citing her own discussions with petitioner regarding the
details relevant to his case.8 (Doc. No. 7-4 at 516.) The trial court chose to credit this
testimony, as well as Dr. Bergman’s assessment of petitioner’s present ability to
rationally assist in his defense, and the appellate court found that the determination of
A case relied upon by petitioner in his traverse illustrates the difference between a personality disorder
with paranoid symptoms and a delusional psychosis. In United States v. Blohm, 579 F. Supp. 495 (S.D.N.Y
1983), the district court found that the defendant was not competent to stand trial, based upon testimony
from an expert mental health professional who explained that the defendant’s belief that he was the victim
of a conspiracy involving then-President Nixon was “ ’delusional’ – a false, ‘unshakable’ idea.” Id. at 503.
According to the expert in Blohm, such a belief was psychotic, immovable, and irrational. Id. After
describing a delusional disorder in much the same way as the expert in Blohm, Dr. Bergman opined that
petitioner’s condition did not rise to the level of a delusional disorder because his beliefs—though
sometimes involving faulty reasoning—were not bizarre or illogical. (Doc. No. 7-4 at 475, 496-99.) Of
course, the decision in Blohm is further distinguished by the fact that it was not a habeas case, but was
before the district court for an initial competency determination. While this Court might have come to a
contrary conclusion had it been confronted, at first instance, with the facts developed at the competency
hearings, it cannot say, on habeas review, that the state courts’ decisions involved an unreasonable
determination of the facts.
With respect to petitioner’s perception of the events leading up to the shooting—including his belief that
an employee of CWRU hacked into his website for the purpose of sabotaging it—Dr. Bergman testified
that his belief was not irrational in that there was evidence that his website had been compromised. (Doc.
No. 7-4 at 466.).
competency was amply supported by the record. Ultimately, the Court finds that
petitioner has failed to show, by clear and convincing evidence, that the state courts’
decisions were the result of an unreasonable determination of the facts. Petitioner’s
second objection is without merit.
For the reasons set forth herein, petitioner’s objections to the report are
overruled. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED and this case will be
DISMISSED with prejudice. Further, the Court certifies that an appeal from this decision
could not be taken in good faith and that there is no basis upon which to issue a certificate
of appealability. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a)(3), 2253(c); Fed. R. App. P. 22(b).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: September 14, 2012
HONORABLE SARA LIOI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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