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State v. Gonzalez

Court of Appeals of Kansas

December 27, 2019

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Rodrigo Francisco Gonzalez, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         1. The essential principle embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution is this: The government may not deprive a person of a property right or a liberty interest without affording that person the opportunity to be heard in a meaningful way and at a meaningful time to avert a wrongful deprivation of that right or interest.

         2. Constitutional due process is an especially elastic concept in that the protections required vary depending upon the importance of the specific property right or liberty interest at stake.

         3. The State may not revoke the probation of a convicted felon who is not mentally competent at the time of the revocation hearing.

         4. Competency for due process purposes entails the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings, to consult with a lawyer, and to assist in presenting a defense.

         5. A district court has the inherent authority to order a competency evaluation as a means of extending constitutional due process to a probationer facing revocation.

          Appeal from Sedgwick District Court; Benjamin L. Burgess, judge.

          Hope Faflick Reynolds and Michelle A. Davis, of Kansas Appellate Defender Office, for appellant.

          Julie A. Koon, assistant district attorney, Marc Bennett, district attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, for appellee.

          Before Powell, P.J., Pierron and Atcheson, JJ.

          ATCHESON, J.

         Constitutional due process protections preclude district courts from revoking the probation of convicted felons who have become mentally incompetent and ordering they serve their underlying sentences of imprisonment. The deprivation of liberty inflicted on those probationers is sufficiently grave that they must be able to understand and meaningfully participate in the revocation proceedings. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires nothing less.

         The Sedgwick County District Court may have given Rodrigo Gonzalez considerably less when it revoked his probation and sent him to prison despite legitimate concerns he may not have been competent during the revocation hearing. The district court refused to order a competency evaluation for Gonzalez because the statutory processes for those evaluations do not explicitly apply to probation revocation proceedings. But the absence of a statutory device cannot negate a fundamental constitutional right. The district court, therefore, erred in revoking Gonzalez' probation without determining he was mentally competent. The error, however, would be harmless if Gonzalez were competent then. We, therefore, remand the case for further proceedings, including either a retrospective or present competency evaluation.

         Factual and Procedural History

         We outline some background facts and procedural history to put this appeal in context. The State charged Gonzalez with felony battery of a law enforcement officer in April 2017 because he refused to remove his shoes while he was being booked into the Sedgwick County jail and then elbowed a corrections officer attempting to move him to a "safety cell" until he complied. The record indicates Gonzalez was 37 years old and had numerous convictions for misdemeanors and traffic offenses in Dodge City, Arkansas City, and Wichita over the course of his adult life. He also had a felony conviction for battery of a law enforcement officer.

         Early in the case, the lawyer appointed to represent Gonzalez requested an evaluation to determine if he was mentally competent to stand trial. As provided in K.S.A. 22-3202, the district court ordered an evaluation and duly received a report from the mental health professional who examined Gonzalez. Following a hearing in June 2017, the district court entered an order finding Gonzalez to be competent. Neither the report nor a transcript of that hearing is part of the record on appeal.

         The State and Gonzalez' lawyer reached an agreement calling for Gonzalez to plead guilty with a sentencing recommendation to the district court for a dispositional departure to probation. The written plea agreement acknowledged Gonzalez' history of mental illness and a related, though unidentified, seizure disorder as factors that contributed to and mitigated his wrongful conduct in the jail. The agreement also recognized the availability of appropriate health care in the community as a ground for the recommended sentence.

         At a hearing in January 2018, the district court accepted Gonzalez' guilty plea. The district court later sentenced Gonzalez to 52 months in prison and, consistent with the parties' agreement, granted the motion for a dispositional departure to probation for 36 months.

         In late July, the district court issued a warrant for Gonzalez because he had tested positive for alcohol several times, violating the terms of his probation. Gonzalez was taken into custody on the warrant, and the district court ...


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