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Caruthers v. Wexler-Horn

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

April 30, 2019

ANTHONY CARUTHERS, Relator,
v.
THE HONORABLE WENDY WEXLER-HORN, JUDGE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE COUNTY OF ST. FRANCOIS, 24TH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT, Respondent.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING IN PROHIBITION

          W. Brent Powell, Judge.

         Anthony Caruthers seeks a writ of prohibition to prevent the circuit court from ordering him to submit to a mental evaluation pursuant to chapter 552.[1] Because Caruthers has not asserted he is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect and the circuit court lacks reasonable cause to question his competence to stand trial, chapter 552 does not authorize the circuit court to order the department of mental health to conduct a psychiatric evaluation of Caruthers. The preliminary writ of prohibition is made permanent.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Caruthers is charged with first-degree murder, second-degree burglary, armed criminal action, tampering, resisting arrest, and escape. Caruthers endorsed Dr. Stacie Bunning as an expert witness. Caruthers disclosed he intends to call Dr. Bunning to testify at trial that he suffered from diminished mental capacity, which rendered him incapable of deliberation at the time of the alleged murder.

         Upon learning of Caruthers' endorsement of Dr. Bunning, the State sought an order for a mental evaluation pursuant to § 552.020. The State later amended its request to seek an order pursuant to § 552.015 and § 552.020. The circuit court granted the State's motion, compelling Caruthers to submit to a psychiatric evaluation and ordering the department of mental health to conduct the evaluation pursuant to § 552.015 and § 552.020. The circuit court's order also directed the department to file a written report with the court to include detailed findings of the evaluation, state an opinion as to whether Caruthers had a mental disease or defect, and state an opinion as to whether Caruthers, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacked a state of mind which is an element of the charged offense.

         Caruthers petitioned the court of appeals for a writ of prohibition. The court of appeals issued a preliminary writ, dispensed with further briefing and oral argument pursuant to Rule 84.24(i), and subsequently made the writ permanent. This Court ordered transfer pursuant to Rule 83.04.[2]

         Standard of Review

         This Court has jurisdiction to issue original remedial writs. Mo. Const. art. V, § 4. This Court may issue a writ of prohibition:

(1) to prevent the usurpation of judicial power when a lower court lacks authority or jurisdiction; (2) to remedy an excess of authority, jurisdiction or abuse of discretion where the lower court lacks the power to act as intended; or (3) where a party may suffer irreparable harm if relief is not granted.

State ex rel. Strauser v. Martinez, 416 S.W.3d 798, 801 (Mo. banc 2014). A writ of prohibition is appropriate to prevent a circuit court from ordering a defendant to undergo a mental evaluation concerning the defendant's "mental state at the time of alleged criminal conduct without a plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect." State ex rel. Proctor v. Bryson, 100 S.W.3d 775, 778 (Mo. banc 2003) (emphasis omitted).

         Analysis

         Caruthers seeks a writ of prohibition, arguing the circuit court exceeded its authority by ordering him to undergo a mental evaluation pursuant to chapter 552. The State argues § 552.015 and § 552.020 authorize the circuit court to order a mental evaluation to determine whether Caruthers suffered a mental disease or defect that rendered him incapable of deliberating at the time of the alleged offense. But this authority is not found in chapter 552.

         Section 552.015 does not authorize the circuit court to order a mental evaluation. Rather, this section merely prescribes when evidence of a defendant's mental disease or defect is admissible in a criminal prosecution. See § 552.015. Section 552.020, on the other hand, does authorize the circuit court to order the department of mental health to conduct psychiatric evaluations of criminal defendants, but only in two limited circumstances.

         First, the circuit court may order an evaluation when the court "has reasonable cause to believe that the accused lacks mental fitness to proceed." § 552.020.2. This subsection authorizes the circuit court to order an evaluation when the court has reasonable cause to question a defendant's present ability to "rationally consult with counsel and the court and understand[] the proceedings against him." State v. Hunter, 840 S.W.2d 850, 863 (Mo. banc 1992). In other words, § 552.020.2 authorizes the circuit court to order a mental evaluation to determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. Id.; see also Edwards v. State, 200 S.W.3d 500, 519 (Mo. banc 2006) ("A defendant is competent if he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding ….") (internal quotations omitted). The purpose of the evaluation authorized by this subsection, however, is limited to determining whether the defendant is currently competent and "does not allow the court to order an examination as to the mental capacity of [the defendant] at the time of the alleged criminal conduct." ...


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