State v. Ducharme
To support a claim of incompetence, the defendant needed to establish that he could neither comprehend the proceedings nor assist in his defense and the distinction that one can be competent to stand trial but not competent to plead guilty was considered and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1993 case of Godinez v. Moran. Paul Ducharme pleaded guilty to sexual assault in the second degree under the Alford doctrine and to employing a minor in an obscene performance. The court canvassed the defendant and made inquiries of defense counsel who offered no reason why the plea should not be accepted. Thereafter, the defendant filed a motion to vacate the plea claiming he may have been incompetent. Psychiatrist Kenneth Selig testified that the defendant had not been competent to enter a plea. The state's expert testified that a team of medical professionals concluded that the defendant was competent to stand trial. The trial court concluded that the defendant was competent when he entered his plea and denied his motion to vacate. The defendant appealed claiming that this plea was involuntary and taken without substantial compliance with Practice Book §39-19. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The defendant conflated the inquiry regarding a knowing and voluntary plea with the issue of his competency. Each issue was considered separately. The defendant's responses to the court's plea canvass, his explicit and implied representations that he was competent and the trial court's own observations, all supported the conclusion that the defendant was competent to plead guilty. The defendant unsuccessfully argued that Selig's testimony established that the defendant was not competent to plead. The record contained significant support for the trial court's decision to discredit Selig's testimony, including the delay between the evaluation and plea and the contrast in conclusions between Selig and the trial judge who conducted the canvass. Selig's final conclusion was legally inconsistent, namely, that the defendant was competent to stand trial, yet not competent to plead guilty on the relevant date. The competency standard for pleading guilty or waiving the right to counsel is the same as the competency standard for standing trial. The trial court was justified in determining that the defendant understood the proceedings and had the ability to assist in his defense, notwithstanding any history of emotional illness.