• New Haven J.D., at New Haven
  • CV98-412103S
  • Mar 27 2014 (Date Decided)
  • Corradino, J.T.R.

A defendant may not be competent to plead guilty, if a mental illness has substantially impaired the defendant’s ability to make a reasoned choice. The petitioner, Geraldine Moye, allegedly confessed that on Nov. 10, 1993 she was unable to work, because she had been in a motor-vehicle accident and, worried that she could not pay for motor-vehicle repairs and that her children would not be warm enough, she piled clothes on a space heater and placed candles near the curtains to set a fire, so that she could collect insurance. Allegedly, two firemen received minor injuries when fighting the fire, and there were $62,000 in damages. The petitioner pled nolo contendere to charges of second-degree arson, expressed remorse and was sentenced to seven years, suspended after two years. Moye filed a habeas petition and alleged that her guilty plea was not voluntary, knowing and intelligent, because she suffered from mental illness. Moye also claimed that she received ineffective assistance from trial counsel, Attorney Paul Carty, because he allegedly failed to investigate whether she was competent to plead nolo contendere. To prevail on ineffective assistance, a petitioner must prove that trial counsel’s performance was deficient and that the deficient performance prejudiced the petitioner. If a plea is not voluntary and knowing, it is obtained in violation of due process. A defendant may suffer from mental illness and remain able to comprehend charges and to assist in a defense. Attorney Carty referred the petitioner for psychological evaluations. A psychologist and a neurologist interviewed the petitioner, who underwent psychological tests. Doctors concluded the petitioner was cooperative, alert and oriented, did not display memory deficits and suffered from epilepsy, severe stress, a schizotypal personality and poor decision making. Attorney Carty testified the petitioner was able to rationally discuss her conduct, charges, the players and potential defenses. The petitioner admitted that she was able to assist her lawyer, and the court found that she failed to prove that she was not competent. Attorney Carty achieved a favorable resolution for his client. The petitioner failed to prove ineffective assistance, and the court denied the habeas petition.