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State v. Singh

January 13, 1997


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 93-1-05524-9. Date filed: 03/03/95. Judge signing: Hon. Faith Enyeart Ireland.

Rehearing and Motion to Consolidate Denied July 8, 1997,

Authored by C. Kenneth Grosse. Concurring: Susan R. Agid, Faye C. Kennedy.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Grosse

GROSSE, J. -- In this second appeal, accompanied by a personal restraint petition, Kanwarjit Singh challenges the trial court's denial of his motion for a new trial based on his alleged incompetence and his trial attorney's ineffectiveness in not bringing the question of his competence to the trial court's attention. We reject these claims. And, given our earlier decision on his direct appeal *fn1 affirming his conviction for first degree child molestation, we refuse to review additional alleged trial errors.

The trial Judge who presided over the trial heard the motion for new trial, considered the testimony and declarations of the defendant, his physician, friends and family, and viewed the medical records. Our review of the facts and testimony indicates that Singh, while obviously suffering from some anxiety, was competent.

At the hearing on the motion for a new trial, Singh claimed he was not mentally competent during the trial because he had taken too many tranquilizers. He said he could not remember parts of the trial and that he told his counsel he was taking too many drugs. Singh claimed that due to mistake or inadvertence, defense counsel failed to raise the issue of his competency and that substantial Justice had not been done because the trial court failed to take notice of his mental condition. He provided support materials including letters from family and friends as well as medical records and a statement from the family's physician, Dr. Lippman.

In its review, the court noted its specific recollection of Singh's testimony at trial and observed that the trial was an emotionally charged proceeding. The court also noted that while Singh was highly emotional on the witness stand, his demeanor showed he knew what was taking place in the courtroom. The court found no factual basis to conclude that Singh was incompetent or under any significant influence of drugs at the time he testified. The court specifically stated it found nothing unusual about his answers to the questions posed to him. The court stated that while Singh may have been on medication, there was nothing about his actions to lead the court to question his competence. The court noted that Dr. Lippman did not provide an underlying basis for his opinion that Singh could not assist counsel.

A trial court's ruling on a motion for a new trial will be reversed only for a manifest abuse of the trial court's discretion. *fn2 A trial court has wide discretion in judging the mental competency of a defendant to stand trial. *fn3 In this state, a person is competent to stand trial if he or she has the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or her, and if he or she can assist in his or her own defense. *fn4

A trial Judge may make his or her determination from many things, including the defendant's appearance, demeanor, conduct, personal and family history, past behavior, medical and psychiatric reports, and the statements of counsel. Here the trial Judge made such an evaluation and found that Singh was mentally competent to stand trial at the time of his trial. There is nothing in the record which undercuts the decision of the trial court. Although Singh was anxious, stressed, depressed, and on tranquilizers, these facts do not establish that he was incompetent to stand trial.

Because Singh was competent at the time of trial, defense counsel's failure to bring Singh's mental state to the attention of the court cannot be the basis for a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Nonetheless, a review of the record shows that counsel's performance in the case was outstanding. Counsel aggressively fought the State's case at trial and presented a reasoned defense. Singh cannot prove that the representation received fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, nor that he was prejudiced by the conduct of his counsel in any way. There is little merit to Singh's claim.

This court is "'committed to the rule that questions determined on appeal or questions which might have been determined had they been presented, will not again be considered on a subsequent appeal in the same case.'" *fn5 Thus, Singh may not raise alleged trial errors in his appeal of the denial of a motion for new trial because these claims were not raised in his first direct appeal.

personal restraint petition is not a substitute for an appeal.

But the failure to raise a constitutional issue for the first time in a direct appeal no longer necessarily precludes consideration of that issue by a personal restraint petition. The petitioner must show also that the ...

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