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United States v. Prado

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

March 22, 2019

RAMON PRADO, Defendant.



         1. Background

         Ramon Prado is charged with assaulting a Deputy United States Marshal. (ECF No. 5.) According to a criminal complaint (ECF No. 1), Prado went to the offices of the United States Marshal Service and asked to speak to someone. Two deputy marshals met Prado in the lobby and engaged in a conversation. At the end of the conversation Prado asked, “Which one of you gets to be punched first[?]” (ECF No. 1 at 2.) A deputy told him he could not assault anyone and that, if he did, he would be arrested. Prado stated that he was looking to be arrested, and he punched the deputy in the jaw. The incident was video recorded.

         When Prado appeared before this court later that day, the government questioned whether he was competent. (ECF No. 2.) The court found “reasonable cause to believe that Prado may be suffering from a mental disease or defect that renders him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of these proceedings or to assist properly in his defense.” (ECF No. 3 at 1-2.) Therefore, the court ordered Prado to undergo a competency evaluation.

         Prado was evaluated over the course of 45 days at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago. Dr. Robin Watkins, a board certified forensic psychologist, concluded that Prado was not competent but that he could be restored to competency. (ECF No. 9.) Although the United States accepted Dr. Watkins's conclusions, Prado challenged Dr. Watkins's report, alleging that he was competent. A hearing was held at which both Dr. Watkins and Prado testified.

         It is obvious that Prado suffers from significant mental illness. However, as Dr. Watkins acknowledged, the nature of Prado's illness is unusual and complex. During his evaluations with Dr. Watkins Prado frequently made incredible assertions. For example, he reported that he has “credentials with the CIA, ” that he was an Interpol agent when he was in the military, [1] that he spoke to the United Nations on behalf of the Marine Corps, and that he was good friends with Justice Sotomayor, who had appointed him as a judge. What Dr. Watkins found unusual was not that Prado had incredible beliefs but that these beliefs were often consistent over time.

         Dr. Watkins reported that Prado had “magical thinking.” For example, he described a woman who “knew a very special Indian spell that allows her amino acids to shift from one species to another” and “playfully made herself appear to be some sort of viper.” (ECF No. 9 at 14.) He described an incident in 2009 where he was shot in the head[2], placed in a coffin, and taken to a cemetery for a funeral, but his friends dug him out and gave him protein shakes with olive oil which revived him. (ECF No. 9 at 15-16.)

         Prado also answered questions in an unusual manner, which, although not technically incorrect, were outside the range of expected responses. For example, when asked how blue and green are alike, a person would ordinarily respond that they are both colors. Prado answered that they are both colors on flags of North America. When asked how a square and a triangle are alike, rather than identifying them as both shapes, Prado answered that a triangle is half a square.

         In his discussions with Dr. Watkins and during his testimony at the competency hearing, Prado was able to describe the offense with which he was charged, understood different penalties he faced and the nature of those penalties, and the different sorts of pleas he could enter. He articulated an accurate understanding of the roles of the prosecutor, the judge, and his attorney.

         Of particular significance to Dr. Watkins were concerns that

his description of his likely defense strategy was bizarre and did not appear to be reality-based. Specifically, he stated, “There's another jury state above [the Court] - called Interpol - I'd rather deal with Interpol than the Eastern District of Wisconsin.” He asserted the Court does not have authority over him because he does not believe in a “higher power” and has not given the Court authority of him. He stated, “I feel a lot more superior to them, instead of them being superior to me.”

(ECF No. 9 at 23.) Dr. Watkins also expressed concern that Prado may distrust his attorney. However, at the competency hearing Prado did not relate any such bizarre thinking as to defense strategy and instead expressed a desire to plead guilty. Moreover, Prado's attorney stated his belief that Prado is competent. Counsel reported being able to communicate with him effectively and that Prado was able to adequately assist in his own defense.

         2. Analysis

         A court may not, consistent with due process, accept a guilty plea from, try, or sentence a person who is mentally incompetent. Anderson v. United States, 865 F.3d 914, 919 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171-72 (1975)); United States v. Collins, 949 F.2d 921, 924, 927 (7th Cir. 1991); see also Eddmonds v. Peters, 93 F.3d 1307, 1314 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 378 (1966)). “The test for competency to proceed to trial is fairly simple: Does the defendant have a sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and does he have a rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him.” United States v. Jones, 83 F.3d 927, 928 (7th Cir. 1996); see also 18 U.S.C. § 4241(d) (stating a defendant is incompetent if “the court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that the ...

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