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United States v. Gamarra

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

October 4, 2019

United States of America, Appellee
Jean-Paul Gamarra, Appellant

          Argued September 6, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:17-cr-00065-1).

          Lisa B. Wright, Assistant Federal Public Defender, argued the cause for appellant. With her on the briefs was A.J. Kramer, Federal Public Defender. Tony Axam Jr. and David W. Bos, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, entered appearances.

          Nicholas P. Coleman, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause for appellee. With him on the brief were Jessie K. Liu, U.S. Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, and Chrisellen R. Kolb, Assistant U.S. Attorneys.

          Before: Rogers and Pillard, Circuit Judges, and Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge.


          Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge.

         Randolph, Senior Circuit Judge: This is a criminal case. The defendant, Jean-Paul Gamarra, appeals from an order of the district court. The order authorized the government to medicate him without his consent for the purpose of rendering him competent to stand trial.

         Questions about Gamarra's soundness of mind arose from these largely undisputed circumstances of his arrest on March 28, 2017. Gamarra approached a Secret Service Agent stationed near the Treasury Department Building, adjacent to the White House. Gamarra told the Agent that he had a package containing a "nuclear bomb detonator or defuser." The Agent ordered Gamarra to place his package on the ground. On the package were messages: "Warning this is a tre threat on the President and Senator life Secure Keyboard to be Reversed Engineered," and "Warning 100% threat Brand New Electronic Detonator Device president Secrete Servisce Explosive technology Department." On the package's label was this: "Blue tooth Bomb Explosion Component."

         In response, the Agent arrested Gamarra while other law enforcement officers closed the surrounding areas to pedestrian and vehicular traffic for an hour and a half. When officers examined Gamarra's package they found only an ordinary Bluetooth keyboard.

         A grand jury indicted Gamarra for threatening bodily harm to the President (18 U.S.C. § 871) and for conveying false information concerning the use of an explosive (18 U.S.C. § 844(e)).

         Gamarra's actions raised doubts about whether he was competent to stand trial. On the government's motion, the magistrate judge ordered Gamarra committed to custody for the purpose of evaluating his competency. A forensic psychologist examined Gamarra and concluded that he suffered from a 'schizoaffective disorder' and that he was not competent to stand trial. After a hearing, the Magistrate Judge agreed and issued an order under 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d) committing Gamarra to continuing custody for the purpose of determining whether he could become competent. This subsection provides, in part:

The Attorney General shall hospitalize the defendant for treatment in a suitable facility . . . for such a reasonable period of time, not to exceed four months, as is necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that in the foreseeable future he will attain the capacity to permit the proceedings to go forward[.]

         After some delay, Gamarra was transferred to the Federal Medical Center, Butner, North Carolina. A psychology intern at Butner and her supervisor, a forensic psychologist, attended to Gamarra and signed a report. From multiple clinical evaluations, interviews and observations, they concluded that Gamarra suffered from delusional thinking and disorganized speech. His medical history and the accounts of his family members indicated that he could not become competent without anti-psychotic medicine. At Butner, Gamarra started taking the prescribed medication, but within a short time became noncompliant.

         The government therefore moved for an order authorizing involuntary medication. After a three-day evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge recommended denying the motion on the ground that the government failed to provide treatment to Gamarra within the four month period specified in 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d)(2). The district court rejected the recommendation and granted the government's motion, concluding that under Sell v. United States, 539 U.S. 166 (2003), "the government had met its burden of proof with respect to each of the four Sell factors." United States v. Gamarra, 2018 WL 5257846, *9 (D.D.C. 2018).

         Gamarra's appeal is limited to the district court's rulings on two of the four Sell factors the second and the fourth. The second Sell factor requires the government to establish that "the administration of the drugs is substantially likely to render the defendant competent to stand trial" and "substantially unlikely to have side effects that will interfere significantly with the defendant's ability to assist counsel in conducting a trial defense, thereby rendering the trial unfair." Sell, 539 U.S. at 181. The fourth Sell factor requires the government to establish that "administration of the drugs is medically appropriate, i.e., in the patient's best medical interest in light of his medical condition." Id.

         The district court's conclusions in favor of the government must rest on "clear and convincing evidence." United States v. Dillon, 738 F.3d 284, 291 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Our review of those conclusions is for "clear error." Id. Under this standard, we may reverse only "if (1) the findings are 'without substantial evidentiary support or … induced by an erroneous application of the law'; or if (2) 'on the entire evidence [we are] left with the definite and firm conviction ...

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