Nicolas Guaman Case: a Question of Competency
A hearing will be scheduled in Worcester Superior Court this month to determine whether Nicolas Dutan Guaman is competent to stand trial for the death of Matthew Denice.
A Worcester Superior Court judge will decide whether Nicolas Dutan Guaman is mentally competent to be tried for the death of Matthew Denice, a motorcyclist who police say was killed after the defendant struck, then dragged him, with a pickup truck.
One medical expert hired by defense attorneys has found Guaman is not competent, and turned in a report describing that finding. Another medical expert, appointed by the court, did not find him incompetent.
Judge James Lemire has ordered a competency hearing, in which experts will testify as to whether Guaman, a 35-year-old laborer, understands the case against him, and meets other criteria for competency. The hearing will be scheduled on Oct. 25.
According to an order from Lemire, the legal threshold is this: "whether he has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding — and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'
In his order, which allowed the mental evaluations, Lemire wrote that the psychiatrist conducting the evaluations could consider factors including: the defendant's ability to understand the charges against him, his ability to identify and locate witnesses, his ability to comprehend instructions and advice, and to make decisions after receiving advice, and his ability to relate to his defense counsel, to trust and to communicate relevantly with his attorney.
In addition, the doctor could consider: "the defendant's self-defeating or self-serving motivation, whether his motivation is to protect himself and to utilize the available legal safeguards."
The result of those evaluations — the reports by Paul Spiers, a Danvers neuropsychologist appointed by the defense attorneys, and the report by Hanya Bluestone, a Spencer-based psychologist appointed by the court —is now before Lemire. The reports are not public record.
Peter Ettenberg, one of two attorneys representing Guaman, said his reading of the report submitted by Bluestone is that she identifies him as having issues, but it does not find him not competent. The report "doesn't say anything" definitive about his competency, Ettenberg said.
Court records show Spiers was paid $4,000 for his services. His report found Guaman was not competent, according to Ettenberg, who has said his client does not understand the criminal process he faces, and is not communicating with him effectively.
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Guaman is an Ecuadorian citizen who police say has been living illegally in the U.S. for at least seven years. Before his arrest in the Denice case, he was employed as a roofer. Ettenberg has said his client has the equivalent of a second-grade education.
The Worcester County District Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the case, would not comment on the medical reports or the issue of Guaman's competency. In a hearing in June, in which Guaman's wife was deposed, the prosecutor asked her a series of questions about her husband's decision-making abilities, including whether he was able to follow directions and handle money effectively.
The threshold to be found "not competent" to stand trial is a high one, according to David Rossman, a professor at Boston University School of Law and director of its Criminal Law Clinical Programs. "It doesn't take very much to be competent," he said, noting that mentally ill people and those with a "distorted" sense of reality are tried routinely in Massachusetts courts.
It would be unusual for a defendant to be found not competent to stand trial, he said, "it's a relatively demanding standard." In cases where the defendant poses a threat, such as a murder case, he said, the defendant would not be released if found not competent to stand trial.
"You would be committed until you are competent," he said.