Court must consider competency in community corrections revocation, COA says

A convicted robber whose community corrections placement was revoked was denied due process because a court failed to consider his competency after evaluations had been ordered, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Charles Luster was convicted of the Level 5 felony offense and sentenced to six years — three years executed and three years suspended — plus a year of probation. After a security officer at Luster’s community corrections facility was told Luster was acting erratically and talking to himself, the officer viewed security video that showed Luster “engage in inappropriate sexual conduct in the laundry room,” after which the state moved to revoke his probation and send him to the Department of Correction to serve the remainder of his sentence.

The St. Joseph Superior Court appointed two medical experts to evaluate Luster’s ability to understand the proceedings and assist in preparing his defense. One expert diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia but said with proper medication, he could “manage the structure” of community corrections. The other expert concluded Luster’s symptoms were “consistent with bipolar affective disorder, substance abuse disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” and that Luster “does not demonstrate the capacity to stand trial for the charges in this legal matter.”

Nevertheless, the trial court revoked Luster’s probation, which the COA reversed in its order Monday in Charles Edward Luster v. State of Indiana, 19A-CR-129. The panel cited Madden v. State, 25 N.E.3d 791, 795 (Ind. Ct. App. 2015), which holds that the due process requirements for probation revocation and community correction revocation hearings are the same, and that a litigant has a right to be competent for those hearings.

“…(W)hile the court acknowledged at the beginning of the hearing that it had ordered a competency evaluation, the court nonetheless concluded that ‘the statute concerning competency [Indiana Code Section 35-36-3-1] contemplates [a] prejudgment [assessment] and of course this is post-judgment by a long shot,’” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel. “As such, the trial court did not consider the competency evaluations but proceeded with the hearing.”

“… (T)he court then declined to consider the experts’ reports, which substantiated the court’s original concern,” Najam wrote. “Because the trial court did not consider evidence of Luster’s competency prior to the hearing on the State’s petition to revoke his placement, the court violated his due process rights.

“We therefore reverse the trial court’s revocation of Luster’s placement in community corrections, and we remand with instructions for the trial court to consider the competency evaluations and to determine whether Luster is competent to understand and participate in the proceedings against him.”

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