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State v. Leatherberry

Superior Court of Delaware

May 1, 2018

STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff,
v.
LANCE LEATHERBERRY, Defendant.

          Date submitted: April 18, 2018

          Allison Abessinio, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Attorney for the State.

          Dana L. Reynolds, Esquire, LAW OFFICES OF DANA L. REYNOLDS, LLC, Attorney for Defendant.

          COMMISSIONER'S DECISION ON DEFENDANT'S COMPETENCY TO STAND TRIAL

          MANNING, Commissioner

         Pending before the Court is the question of Mr. Leatherberry's competency to stand trial in the Superior Court for the above captioned criminal cases. Following numerous psychiatric evaluations and an evidentiary hearing on April 18, 2018, the issue is now ripe for decision.

         Facts and Procedural History

         Mr. Leatherberry is a young man now 19 years of age. His life-long struggles are well documented in the medical records. Briefly, records indicate that he was born full-term and healthy. However, around the age three, Mr. Leatherberry suffered a permanent traumatic brain injury ("TBI") as a result of abuse by his mother's paramour, who also killed his younger brother in the same incident. Mr. Leatherberry's behavior deteriorated dramatically following this abuse and he became problematic both at home and at school. Mr. Leatherberry suffered from significant learning and behavioral problems and received special education services as a student with an intellectual disability and an emotional disturbance. Mr. Leatherberry made little progress in school and recent testing indicates academic achievement at the 2nd to 3rd-grade level. Due to his behavioral difficulties at home, Mr. Leatherberry now lives under supervision with Connections Community Support Program in a group home in Smyrna. Mr. Leatherberry is currently facing charges in the Superior Court for Theft of a Motor Vehicle, Conspiracy Second Degree, Attempted Robbery First Degree, Aggravated Menacing and Carrying a Concealed Deadly Weapon (firearm).

         Mr. Leatherberry's legal troubles have been ongoing since the time of his first arrest as a juvenile in May 2008. Since that time, Mr. Leatherberry has been evaluated for competency to stand trial on seven different occasions, most recently on April 9, 2018, by Abraham J. Mensch, Ph.D. Lane's troubled history is well-summarized in Dr. Mensch's most recent report so I will not recapitulate it in great detail here. Sufficient it to say, Dr. Much has opined that he believes that Mr. Leatherberry is not competent to stand trial due to his neurocognitive and neurobehavioral defects.[1] The State has submitted evaluations from two different doctors at the Delaware Psychiatric Center ("DPC") who have opined that Mr. Leatherberry, despite his limitations, is presently competent to stand trial.[2]

         Mr. Leatherberry's evaluation history can be summarized as follows:

         The first evaluation was conducted on May 16, 2001, when Mr. Leatherberry was 12 years old, by Dr. Heather Alford of the Division of Prevention and Behavioral Health Services ("DPBHS"). Dr. Alford concluded that due to Mr. Leatherberry 's neurocognitive defects his ability to understand the proceedings and participate in them was substantially limited.

         The second evaluation was conducted on September 14, 2015, by Dr. Ben Lungen, also of DPBHS. Dr. Lungen found Mr. Leatherberry competent to stand trial, opining that he had a sufficient factual understanding of the legal process and the charges against him to assist in his own defense.[3]

         The third evaluation was conducted on June 10, 2016, by Dr. Daniel Jones, also of DPBHS. Dr. Jones concluded that, overall, Mr. Leatherberry demonstrated most of the required capacities for competency to proceed to trial.[4]

         The forth evaluation was completed by Dr. Mensch on April 26, 2016. At that time, Dr. Mensch opined that Mr. Leatherberry "did not evidence the capacities needed for adjudicative competency." Dr. Mensch completed a re-evaluation of Mr, Leatherberry on May 5, 2017. In this evaluation, Dr. Mensch opinioned, again, that although Mr. Leatherberry possessed some of the competency abilities, he still had significant impediments to assisting his attorney with his defense.

         The fifth evaluation was completed at DPC by Douglas S. Roberts, Psy.D, on October 27, 2017. Dr. Roberts' report starts by outlining a detailed history of Mr, Leatherberry's legal, family, traumatic, education, medical and psychiatric history. Dr. Robert's administered various cognitive assessments which confirmed that Mr. Leatherberry was intellectually disabled, although Dr. Roberts' classified it as "mild." Dr. Roberts utilized the "McGarry Questions" for purposes of determining Mr. Leatherberry's understanding of the legal process and competency to stand trial.[5]Specifically, Dr. Roberts found that (1) Mr. Leatherberry had an understanding of the charges against him, (2) Mr. Leatherberry generally understood the possible penalties associated with the charges against him and also understood the concept of probation, (3) Mr. Leatherberry understood that the State would need evidence to convict him, but doubted that any video evidence would show his face, (4) Mr, Leatherberry was able to correctly identify and generally explain the role of the defense attorney, prosecutor, judge, jury and that he was the defendant, (5) Mr. Leatherberry understood the concept of a witness and that if a witness lied on the stand that he could discuss that fact with his lawyer, (6) Mr. Leatherberry recognized the need to behave in court and that he could be removed if he failed to do so, (7) Mr. Leatherberry understood the concept of a plea bargain and that by pleading guilty he would not have a trial, (8) Mr. Leatherberry's ability to plan legal strategy was significantly limited, however, Mr. Leatherberry did recognize that he could tell the jury he did not do ...


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