WILLIAM I. BUXTON, Appellant,
STATE OF ALASKA, Appellee.
Appeal from the Superior Court, First Judicial District, Ketchikan, Trevor N. Stephens, Judge. Trial Court No. 1KE-12-762 CR
Appearances: Renee McFarland, Assistant Public Defender, and Q uinlan Steiner, Public D efender, Anchorage, for the A ppellant.
Eric A. Ringsmuth, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Criminal Appeals, Anchorage, and Craig W. Richards, Attorney General, Juneau, for the Appellee.
Before: Mannheimer, Chief Judge, and Allard and Kossler, Judges.
The question before this Court is whether a criminal appeal should be stayed if the defendant becomes mentally incompetent during the pendency of the appeal. For the reasons explained here, we conclude that the appeal should not be stayed.
Factual background and prior proceedings
A jury convicted William Buxton of first-degree murder for the death of his aunt at their shared home in Metlakatla. At sentencing, a psychiatrist who evaluated Buxton testified that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Buxton appealed his conviction to this Court and his case is currently in the initial briefing stages. Based on her concerns that Buxton is no longer mentally competent, Buxton's attorney has filed a motion to stay his appeal and to remand the case to the superior court for a competency determination. The State opposes any stay of the appeal and argues that a competency determination is unnecessary because it is ultimately the attorney, not the defendant, who makes the final decision regarding which issues to brief.
We conclude that the proper approach to this issue is the one developed in the American Bar Association's ABA Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards. This is also the approach followed by the majority of courts that have directly addressed this issue.
Criminal Justice Mental Health Standard § 7-5.4 ("Mental incompetence at time of noncapital appeal") addresses the situation we are confronted with here - where a defendant who is represented by counsel becomes incompetent during the pendency of the appeal. (We express no opinion regarding what standard should apply when the defendant is proceeding pro se or when the defendant is incompetent prior to the initial filing of the appeal, as those situations are not before us.)
Under the ABA Standard, if a good faith doubt about the mental competence of a defendant arises during the time of appeal, counsel is advised to "make such doubt known to the court and to include it in the record." Mental incompetence, in this instance, means that a defendant "does not have sufficient present ability to consult with [his or her] lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, or ... does not have a rational as well as factual understanding appropriate to the nature of the proceedings."
However, the mental incompetence of the defendant does not preclude continuation of the appeal "as to matters deemed by counsel or by the court to be appropriate."  Instead, the defense counsel is required to proceed with the appeal on behalf of the ...