ON APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-SECOND JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT. NUMBER 521288, DIV. E, PARISH OF ST. TAMMANY STATE OF LOUISIANA. HONORABLE WILLIAM J. BURRIS, JUDGE.
Walter P. Reed, District Attorney, Covington, Louisiana, Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellee, State of Louisiana.
Kathryn W. Landry, Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Jeffry L. Sanford, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Counsel for Defendant-Appellant, Benson Harrison O'Brien, III.
BEFORE: KUHN, PETTIGREW, AND WELCH, JJ.
[2014 0899 La.App. 1 Cir. 2]
Defendant, Benson Harrison O'Brien, III, was originally charged by grand jury indictment with second degree murder, a violation of La. R.S. 14:30.1, and pled not guilty. The State subsequently amended the indictment to charge defendant with manslaughter, a violation of La. R.S. 14:31, and defendant pled guilty to the amended charge. The trial court sentenced defendant to forty years imprisonment at hard labor.
Defendant now appeals, assigning error to the trial court's denial of his motion for new trial filed approximately one year after his guilty plea and sentencing. For the following reasons, we conditionally affirm the conviction and sentence and remand for a determination of whether a meaningful inquiry into defendant's competence at the time of guilty plea is possible and, if so, for an evidentiary hearing and determination on this issue.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
Because defendant entered a guilty plea to the amended charge in this case, the facts were not fully developed in the record. At the time of the plea, the parties stipulated to the existence of a factual basis based upon discovery and sentencing discussions. According to the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office affidavit for a search warrant, on May 7, 2012, deputies responded to a medical emergency at a residence in Covington where they observed the body of Bridgette Harveston (the victim) on the ground near a bam. The victim was unresponsive and, after being transported to St. Tammany Parish Hospital, was pronounced deceased. The emergency was reported by defendant's father, Benson O'Brien, Jr., who went to a neighbor's residence to call 911 after discovering the victim near the bam entrance, unresponsive with bruises on her face. According to Mr. O'Brien, defendant indicated that he and the victim had an altercation. When Mr. O'Brien and the neighbor returned to the residence, defendant and the victim's vehicle were no longer there. Later that day, defendant arrived at his attorney's office in Covington [2014 0899 La.App. 1 Cir. 3] and was subsequently taken into custody. The next day, an autopsy was conducted and homicide was the concluded cause of death.
ASSIGNMENT OF ERROR
In the sole assignment of error, defendant asserts that the trial court erred by failing to hold a hearing on the issue of his competency to understand the plea he entered on March 13, 2013. Pointing out that he raised this issued in his motion for new trial filed March 12, 2014, defendant maintains that the trial court should have held a hearing, listened to medical testimony regarding his competency and, absent compelling testimony to the contrary, determined that he was incompetent to waive his rights at the time of the guilty plea. Because the issue of sanity or mental capacity to proceed may be raised at any stage of the proceedings even after conviction, where there is the ...