At his post-conviction relief hearing, respondent claimed he was rendered incompetent by drugs given to him while was in jail; however, respondent offered no evidence as to the specific medications and dosages he was administered at the jail while awaiting trial and during the time period immediately prior to his guilty plea. Moreover, respondent offered no evidence of what a mental health evaluation would have shown had one been sought prior to his guilty plea. Respondent did not show that plea counsel was ineffective in failing to seek a competency evaluation.
We reverse the PCR court’s grant of respondent’s application for relief.
There is no evidence in the record that plea counsel’s failure to seek a competency evaluation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. To the contrary, plea counsel testified that, based on his interactions with respondent, a competency evaluation was unnecessary; that counsel believed respondent was competent at the time of the plea; and that he continued to believe respondent was competent. Because the record contains no evidence to support a finding that counsel’s decision not to seek a competency evaluation fell below reasonable professional norms, the PCR court erred in finding counsel was deficient.
Furthermore, respondent presented no evidence to demonstrate a reasonable probability that he would have been found incompetent to enter a guilty plea had a competency evaluation been conducted.
There is no evidence to support the PCR court’s prejudice finding.
Nothing in the guilty plea transcript suggests respondent was under the influence of drugs or otherwise dispossessed of his mental faculties at the time the guilty plea was entered. To the contrary, respondent informed the plea court, under oath, that he was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
Likewise, plea counsel testified at the PCR hearing that, at the time of the guilty plea, respondent’s affect was not unusual and that respondent appeared to understand the proceedings, never saying or doing anything to suggest otherwise. Indeed, the only evidence in the record supporting respondent’s claim is his own PCR testimony that he was given some unidentified medication at some point while he was in jail and that he did not recall or understand the plea proceedings.
Even under our deferential standard of review, this testimony alone is insufficient to establish that respondent’s guilty plea was entered involuntarily. Respondent’s testimony establishes, at most, that respondent was administered one or more unknown medications in jail at some unknown point in time prior to pleading guilty. These vague assertions fall short as a matter of law.
Indeed, the record is utterly devoid of any evidence that respondent had taken any medication on the day he pled guilty or that he was, as the PCR court found, “under the influence of medication which affected his ability to understand what he was doing on the day of his plea.” Absent any evidence that respondent’s ability to understand the guilty plea proceeding was diminished by the mind-altering effects of one or more specific medications, respondent has failed to meet his burden of proving his plea was constitutionally infirm, and his claim fails as a matter of law.
(Few, J.) The issue before us is whether counsel was obligated to get some professional input to assist counsel in understanding how to most effectively defend respondent in light of his obvious mental health issues. Given the disturbing evidence in this case and plea counsel’s admission that respondent “obviously had some mental problems,” plea counsel was deficient in not seeking professional assistance.
Nevertheless, there is nothing in the guilty plea transcript that indicates an invalid plea. When asked whether he was under the influence of any drugs or alcohol, respondent responded, “No.”
Plea counsel testified at the PCR hearing he observed nothing unusual about his client at the plea, and respondent appeared to understand what he was doing. Therefore, there was nothing the plea court could have observed that indicated respondent was not pleading guilty voluntarily. On its face, this was a valid guilty plea.
Furthermore, respondent failed to meet his burden of proving that specific medication with explained side effects had the capability to produce a sufficient effect on his mental faculties to render him incompetent to enter a guilty plea. Because respondent utterly failed to meet this standard of proof, the PCR court erred as a matter of law in granting him relief.
Concurrence & Dissent
(James, J.) I agree with the majority’s conclusion that the PCR court erred as a matter of law in concluding respondent is entitled to PCR on the ground trial counsel was ineffective in not requesting a competency evaluation.
However, I respectfully disagree with the majority’s conclusion that there is no probative evidence supporting the PCR court’s factual finding that respondent had established he was under the influence of medication and did not understand the effect of his guilty plea.
Respondent’s testimony that he was under the influence of medication which was given to him at the jail, though self-serving, is still probative evidence to support the PCR court’s ruling that respondent’s guilty plea was involuntary.
I would affirm.
Garren v. State (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-043-18, 22 pp.) (John Kittredge, J.) (John Few, J., concurring in the result) (George James Jr., J., concurring in part & dissenting in part) Appealed from Pickens County (Eugene Griffith Jr., PCR Judge) Alan Wilson and Ruston Neely for Petitioner; David Alexander for Respondent. S.C. S. Ct.