I’ve noticed a recent trend of cases reporting a defendant’s use of a past or recent head injury to challenge the improvident waiver of his rights — e.g. waiving the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent, challenging the providence of a guilty plea, etc. The results, so far, are mixed. Comment below about your experience or awareness of using evidence of a head injury to challenge the waiver of procedural rights.
The case today follows this trend. Although decided in December of 2010, it has just been published in Westlaw. The defendant claims that due to a head injury, he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial because he couldn’t understand the implications of doing so.
His third assignment of error and the court’s response tracks well to the post yesterday here by Ken Murray (Federal Public Defender in Arizona). The defendant claims that his 93-year sentence was excessive and in violation of the U.S. and Louisiana Constitution, in large part because of the head injury he suffered years prior. The court affirmed the sentence and found that the aggravated nature of his crimes outweighed any mitigating effect the evidence might have had.
Head Injuries, Waiver of Rights, Cruel and Unusual Punishment
State v. Pecot, 54 So.3d 1174 (La. Ct. App. 2010)
Following a bench trial, defendant was convicted in on four counts of simple rape, three counts of indecent behavior with juveniles, two counts of sexual battery and one count of aggravated crime against nature. Defendant appealed, and the court affirmed and remanded with instructions. Defendant makes three assignments of error (two of which, related to his head injuries, are elaborated upon here). First, that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial; second, challenging the exclusion of testimony under the Rape Shield Law, and; third, that his sentence of 93 years at hard labor was constitutionally excessive. In his first assignment of error, defendant argues that he did not knowingly and intelligently waive his right to a jury trial, because he is essentially illiterate. He claims that a head injury he sustained years ago affected his cognitive abilities and that, although he told the trial judge he had obtained a G.E.D., he actually had another person take the test for him. The Court entered into a pre-trial colloquy with defendant, where he demonstrated sufficient cognitive ability to make a valid jury waiver. Additionally, prior to commencement of trial, defense counsel informed the trial court that he thoroughly discussed the matter with defendant and that defendant wished to waive his right to trial by jury in this case. Defense counsel further indicated that, based on his discussion with defendant, he believed waiving a jury was appropriate for him to do and that defendant was knowingly and intelligently waiving his right to trial by jury. On appeal, the court finds that the trial judge fully explained to defendant what his right to a jury trial entailed, and what it would mean to waive that right. Defendant indicated at each step that he understood what the judge told him. In his third assignment of error, defendant argues that his sentence of 93 years was excessive in violation of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. The Court found that though defendant had suffered a head injury that left him in a coma for three months, was functionally illiterate and had the mental abilities below those of a 14-year-old, there was evidence that defendant systematically preyed on troubled teens and plied them with alcohol in order to sexually exploit them, that the victims were emotionally devastated and that defendant was aware he was socializing with underage girls, and the individual sentences were comparable to other sentences imposed under similar facts and circumstances. Consequently, on appeal the court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court in assigning the sentence and that the sentence was no unconstitutional under the U.S. or Louisiana constitutions.