Appeal from Superior Court, Rutland Unit, Criminal Division
Thomas A. Zonay, J.
Tartter, Deputy State's Attorney, Department of
State's Attorneys and Sheriffs, Montpelier, for
Matthew F. Valerio, Defender General, and Rebecca Turner and
Kelly Green, Appellate Defenders, Montpelier, for
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Skoglund, Robinson and Eaton,
1. This case comes before the Court on interlocutory appeal.
The sole issue is whether, under 13 V.S.A. § 4814, the
State may compel a defendant to submit to a competency
evaluation conducted by a mental health expert of the
State's choosing, following a court-ordered competency
evaluation by a neutral mental health expert. We hold that the
State may not compel such an evaluation, and we therefore
2. The relevant facts are not in dispute. The State charged
defendant with second- degree murder in July 2013. While
defendant was incarcerated pretrial, his counsel requested a
competency hearing. The court ordered an evaluation and,
pursuant to 13 V.S.A. § 4814, the Department of Mental
Health selected a neutral expert to conduct the evaluation.
The neutral expert conducted a competency evaluation on
February 15, 2015, but defense counsel was not present when
the doctor conducted the examination and counsel moved for a
reevaluation. Again, the court ordered an evaluation and the
Department selected a second expert. The second expert
requested access to the first expert's report and later
requested a neuropsychological consult. The Department
declined to provide funding for a neuropsychological
examination, and the expert, who maintained that such an
examination was necessary to complete the competency
evaluation, suggested that the court reassign the evaluation
to another doctor. On February 12, 2016, the court granted
that request and the Department subsequently appointed
another expert to conduct the competency evaluation. The
third court-appointed expert, Dr. Weker, concluded that
"defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial for
the alleged offense." The parties received a copy of
that report on May 23, 2016.
3. In the meantime, defense counsel engaged an expert, Dr.
Wilmuth, to perform a competency evaluation, which Dr.
Wilmuth completed on April 24, 2015. Defendant did not
attempt to introduce the results of Dr. Wilmuth's report.
Nevertheless, after receiving Dr. Weker's report, the
State retained its own expert, Dr. Linder, and at a status
conference on June 20, 2016, requested that Dr. Linder be
given access to defendant in order to conduct a fifth
competency evaluation. Defendant objected to the State's
request, arguing that "[t]he [c]ourt has no legal
authority to order [defendant] to submit to a psychiatric
evaluation arranged by the State." In a written order
dated July 18, 2016, the court granted the State's motion
and ordered defendant to submit to a competency evaluation
conducted by the State's expert. In response, defendant
filed this interlocutory appeal.
4. The appeal presents one issue: whether 13 V.S.A. §
4814 gives the court the authority to order a defendant to
submit to a competency evaluation conducted by an expert
retained by the prosecution, in addition to a court-ordered
competency evaluation conducted by a neutral expert selected
by the Department of Mental Health. This is a pure question
of law and we therefore review it de novo. See State v.
Beauregard, 2003 VT 3, ¶ 4, 175 Vt. 472, 820 A.2d
5. Our analysis begins with the language of the statute.
"Our primary objective in construing a statute is to
effectuate the Legislature's intent." Wesco,
Inc. v. Sorrell, 2004 VT 102, ¶ 14, 177 Vt. 287,
865 A.2d 350. If a statute's language is unambiguous and
its words have plain meaning, "we accept the
statute's plain meaning as the intent of the Legislature
and our inquiry proceeds no further." Id.
6. 13 V.S.A. § 4814(a)(4) provides:
Any court before which a criminal prosecution is pending may
order the Department of Mental Health to have the defendant
examined by a psychiatrist at any time before, during or
after trial, and before final judgment . . . when the Court
believes that there is doubt as to the defendant's mental
competency to be tried for the alleged offense.
§ 4814(b) gives the trial court the authority to order a
competency evaluation on its own motion, on a motion filed by
the State, on a motion filed by the defendant, or on a motion
filed by another party acting on behalf of the defendant.
Sections 4815 and 4816 outline the process by which a
competency evaluation must be conducted and limit the scope
of permissible uses of a report prepared in accordance with
these sections. Specifically, § 4816(d) prohibits the
State from admitting into evidence any statement made by a
defendant during a competency evaluation "in any
criminal proceeding for the purpose of proving the commission
of a criminal offense or for the purpose of impeaching
testimony" of the defendant. Section 4816(f) also
explains that the court's decision to introduce a
competency report "shall not preclude either party or
the [c]ourt from calling the psychiatrist who wrote the
report as a witness or from calling witnesses or introducing
other relevant evidence."
7. The language of the statute is clear on its face. When the
court has doubt as to a defendant's competency, the court
has the authority to "order the Department of Mental
Health to have the defendant examined by a
psychiatrist." 13 V.S.A. § 4814(a). Although the
State is correct that "[n]othing in the statute
contemplates that the only expert witness [at the competency
hearing] be a court-appointed expert, " the statute does
not grant the court the authority to require a defendant to
submit to a competency evaluation by any other
doctor. Additionally, although the State argues
that to prohibit it from conducting its own competency
evaluation would undermine the Legislature's intent that
the competency hearing "be conducted in a manner which
permits both parties meaningfully to challenge the evidence
of the other, " the statute provides a ...