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State v. Charette

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 3, 2013

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
Lee Thomas Charette, Appellant


Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CR-11-28468

Lori Swanson, Minnesota Attorney General, St. Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Linda K. Jenny, Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

David Merchant, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Benjamin J. Butler, Assistant State Public Defender, St. Paul, Minnesota (for appellant)

Considered and decided by Smith, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Chutich, Judge.

Smith, Judge

We affirm appellant's convictions of two counts of first-degree aggravated robbery and one count of attempted aggravated robbery because the procedure for determining appellant's competency was sufficient to support the conclusion that appellant was competent to stand trial, appellant's constitutional right to a speedy trial was not violated, the district court did not abuse its discretion in its evidentiary rulings, and the prosecutor did not commit prosecutorial misconduct. We reverse appellant's sentence and remand the issue to the district court to ensure that appellant is sentenced in the chronological order of his offenses, as required by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.


Appellant Lee Charette was charged with two counts of first-degree aggravated robbery and one count of attempted aggravated robbery on September 12, 2011. Minn. Stat. §§ 609.245, subd. 1, .17 (2010). On September 11, 2011, three college students attended a party in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis. After leaving the party, they proceeded toward a footbridge. As they were crossing the footbridge, a man confronted them by pointing a firearm[1] at them and demanding money. After taking their money, the man struck one of the students with the weapon. That student then grabbed the man and a fight ensued between the three students and the man. During the melee, the students gained possession of the weapon and disposed of it in a garbage can as they fled the scene. Minneapolis police responded to an emergency call and found Charette bleeding, prompting them to initially believe that he was the victim.

Charette demanded a speedy trial on November 21, 2011, seeking a trial date of January 21, 2012. Because both counsel had scheduling conflicts, they agreed to a trial date of January 30, 2012, if the trial would begin on that date. Defense counsel also requested a rule 20.01 evaluation on November 21, but the request was denied. The January 30, 2012 date was continued for good cause by the district court because the prosecutor was participating in another trial.

At a February 2, 2012 hearing, defense counsel explained that Charette had made false representations about defense counsel, at times did not appear to have the ability to comprehend defense counsel's explanations, and occasionally was in denial about his whereabouts. Charette opposed a rule 20.01 evaluation, stating that he would refuse to comply with such an assessment. The district court ordered an expedited rule 20.01 evaluation, and the parties agreed to return on February 16, 2012.

Psychologist Andrea Lynn Lovett performed the evaluation. She determined that Charette "is currently experiencing substantial symptoms of mental illness, including auditory hallucinations, paranoid delusions, depressed mood, and suicidal ideation and intent." Lovett detailed a number of beliefs that Charette discussed, including that his deceased brother appeared and spoke to him, that voices urged him to end his life, that the FBI tailed him in vehicles, and that the FBI implanted a GPS device in his wrist, which transmitted agents' voices. Lovett noted additional considerations, such as Charette's learning disability and various traumatic brain injuries, including sustaining a gunshot wound to his head. Lovett opined that, although Charette demonstrated a factual understanding of some aspects of his pending criminal proceedings, he discounted evidence unfavorable to his case and exhibited paranoid beliefs about the justice system and defense counsel. Finally, Lovett observed that Charette was not malingering, noting that his symptoms and attitudes were not consistent with those who feign illness. She concluded that Charette's "mental status deficits currently interfere with his ability to understand legal proceedings against him, adequately assist his attorney, and testify in his defense."

On February 23, 2012, the district court determined that Charette was not competent to proceed to trial based on Lovett's report. The district court referred Charette to mental-health court, but on March 12, 2012, the mental-health court dismissed the petition and remanded to criminal court. The mental-health court's decision was based on information provided by the court-appointed examiner, who did not support civil commitment. The evaluator noted that Charette admitted "fabricating symptoms to influence his court proceeding."

At a March 14, 2012 hearing before the district court, Charette's competency was questioned. The prosecutor noted that the commitment evaluation "didn't necessarily in great detail address the issue that I think [Lovett] talked about along the lines of concerns as to whether or not [Charette] could participate in his defense." The prosecutor also noted his concern regarding whether Charette understood the nature of the evidence against him.

Defense counsel indicated that Charette knew his location, was able to identify people, and "knows what's going on more or less." Defense counsel also stated, "I think he understands the trial process. I think he can assist in his own defense more or less." When asked directly if he believed Charette was competent, defense counsel responded, "I would not contest a finding of competence."

The district court next questioned Charette. Charette stated that he was "lying about the whole thing" regarding "hearing voices and GPS and all that. I lied about all of that. I don't hear voices. I did sustain traumatic brain injuries in my life, but it doesn't like—I don't know. I don't hear voices, and I don't—that's not true." He agreed that he understood the offenses with which he had been charged, that he had been preparing for trial with defense counsel, that he understood the arguments and evidence to be introduced at trial, and that he felt prepared for trial. Charette also disputed the content of Lovett's evaluation, asserting that she lied throughout her report.

The district court concluded that, based on the "new information . . . brought by conversations with counsel, all of the correspondence[, ] . . . and my examination of Mr. Charette, I am going to find him competent today to proceed with trial." At the March 14 hearing, the district court also observed that the reason for a delay in the trial proceeding was because of the rule 20.01 evaluation and because competency and commitment proceedings suspend speedy-trial requirements.

Following a jury trial, which began on April 9, 2012, Charette was found guilty of all three charged offenses. He was subsequently sentenced to ...

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