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State v. Dahl

June 10, 2010

STATE OF NORTH DAKOTA, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLEE
v.
DARIN WAYNE DAHL, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT



Appeal from the District Court of Steele County, East Central Judicial District, the Honorable Steven L. Marquart, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Crothers, Justice.

AFFIRMED.

[¶1] Darin Dahl appeals the district court judgments entering verdicts finding him guilty of reckless endangerment and attempted murder. We affirm.

I.

[¶2] On April 9 and 10, 2008, Dahl was the suspect of a police standoff in a rural Steele County residence. During the standoff, Dahl shot at and missed a police officer deploying chemical munitions into the house, leading to the charge of reckless endangerment. Also during the standoff, Dahl shot and hit an officer who had entered the residence in an attempt to arrest Dahl, leading to the charge of attempted murder. In the afternoon of April 10, 2008, Dahl voluntarily surrendered and was arrested.

[¶3] On May 21, 2008, the district court ordered Dahl committed to the State Hospital for a mental evaluation. Dahl's evaluation was completed in October 2008 by Dr. Robert Lisota. Dr. Lisota diagnosed Dahl with schizophrenia undifferentiated type with paranoid features, concluding Dahl was competent to stand trial and could effectively communicate with his attorney. A second evaluation was completed by Dr. Stacey Benson with results summarized in a report dated May 28, 2009. Dr. Benson concluded Dahl "is not currently capable of aiding in his own defense."

[¶4] A competency hearing was held on May 29, 2009. The district court considered both doctors' reports as well as testimony from Dr. Benson. Dahl did not object to Dr. Lisota's absence at the hearing. The district court concluded Dahl was competent to stand trial, finding him to be manipulative and capable of assisting in his defense.

[¶5] Dahl's jury trial was held from June 2 to June 5, 2009. Testimony was received from many of the officers involved with Dahl's standoff, as well as from Dr. Benson and Dr. Lisota. On the trial's fourth day, Dahl was not sat in the courtroom but was placed in an adjacent room out of the jury's sight. These steps were taken because Dahl was fitted with a spit mask, shackles and an orange prison uniform, and the district court feared Dahl would be prejudiced if the jury observed him in this fashion. Officers overseeing Dahl told the court Dahl's restraints were necessary because overnight Dahl had urinated on his cell floor, broken his cell's light and resisted removal from his cell. At the close of trial, the jury returned verdicts finding Dahl guilty of attempted murder and of reckless endangerment. Dahl timely filed this appeal.

II.

[¶6] Dahl argues the district court erred in determining he had the mental capacity to assist in his own defense. "Whether or not a defendant is competent to stand trial is a question of fact for the trial judge[,] . . . [a]nd the trial judge's finding on the issue of competency will not be set aside on review unless it is clearly erroneous." State v. Heger, 326 N.W.2d 855, 858 (N.D. 1982) (citations omitted). "A finding of fact is clearly erroneous if it is induced by an erroneous view of the law, if it is not supported by any evidence, or if, although there is some evidence to support the finding, a reviewing court is left with a definite and firm conviction a mistake has been made." Heckelsmiller v. State, 2004 ND 191, ¶ 5, 687 N.W.2d 454.

[¶7] The standard for determining if a criminal defendant is competent to stand trial is set forth in State v. Gleeson:

"It has long been held the conviction of a mentally incompetent accused is a violation of constitutional due process. Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960). The United States Supreme Court has summarized the test for determining if an accused is mentally competent to stand trial. Id. A defendant is incompetent when he lacks (1) 'sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' or (2) 'a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.' Dusky, 362 U.S. at 402. This test is essentially codified at section 12.1-04-04, N.D.C.C., which states: 'No person who, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against the person or to assist in the person's own defense shall be tried, convicted, or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as such incapacity endures.'"

2000 ND 205, ¶ 9, 619 N.W.2d 858. Dahl concedes he had an adequate understanding of the proceedings against him, but he argues he was not able to assist in his defense by coherently conferring with his attorney. The crux of being able to "consult with a lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" is being able to "confer coherently with counsel and provide necessary and relevant information to formulate a defense." State v. VanNatta, 506 N.W.2d 63, 65, 68 (N.D. 1993).

[ΒΆ8] Although this case involves conflicting evidence concerning Dahl's ability to assist in his defense by coherently interacting with his attorney, sufficient evidence exists supporting the district court's finding Dahl was competent to stand trial. The doctors testified Dahl remembered the facts of his case, had moments of clarity, had a good understanding of the legal proceedings, knew where he was and understood the harm caused by his actions. Further, Dr. Benson conceded the possibility that Dahl is malingering. The district court weighed the conflicting reports of Dr. Lisota and Dr. Benson, giving more credence to Dr. Lisota's report and concluding Dahl could adequately confer with his attorney. "Conflicts in testimony [are] resolved in favor of affirmance, as we recognize the trial court is in a superior position to assess credibility of witnesses and weigh the ...


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