Enhancement affirmed after man exaggerated mental deficits to delay trial

February 16, 2015

Although a defendant has a mental disorder, he tried to exaggerate his metal deficits in order to delay or prevent a criminal trial on a bank robbery charge. The federal court saw through his act and enhanced his sentence for obstruction of justice, which the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Friday in a case of first impression.

Anthony Wilbourn’s appeal in United States of America v. Anthony Wilbourn, 13-3610, presents a question the 7th Circuit has yet to address: whether a criminal defendant who by pretending to be mentally incompetent in an effort to delay or derail his prosecution is guilty of an obstruction of justice within Section 3C1.1 of the federal sentencing guidelines.

It’s a question that only three other Circuits have answered, and all –including the 7th Circuit – answered it in the affirmative.

Wilbourn has antisocial personality disorder and was arrested for robbing a bank. His lawyer sought the competency hearing after Wilbourn acted as though he was in a catatonic state when around his lawyer. Wilbourn was evaluated by a psychologist, who found he exaggerated his mental deficits and was competent to stand trial.

Wilbourn claimed he couldn’t read, didn’t know what year it was or what a bank was, but his ex-wife also testified that those claims were lies.

The District judge imposed a two-level sentence enhancement for obstruction of justice after he was convicted, which Wilbourn appealed. He claimed that if exaggerating one’s mental deficits at a competency hearing is deemed obstruction of justice, defendants and their lawyers will be reluctant to request such a hearing even if they have grounds for the request, fearful the judge will decide the defendant is competent and attempted to interfere with the criminal proceeding.

“But that is just to say that when in doubt about the bona fides of the defendant’s behavior at the competence hearing the judge should not find an obstruction of justice,” Judge Richard Posner wrote. “In this case there was no basis for serious doubt that the defendant was deliberately exaggerating his symptoms and by doing so trying to disrupt or at least delay the criminal proceeding, and that he succeeded in delaying his trial by months (though success is not a requirement for imposing an enhancement for obstruction of justice – an attempt will do as well).”


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