One of the most interesting claims using neurological evidence is withdrawal of a guilty plea, arguing the entry of that plea was involuntary or that the defendant lacked the competency to enter such a plea. This was a claim of which I was unaware before conducting an empirical study of behavioral science cases over a five-year time period.
The case today presents an example of such a claim. With a short memorandum opinion, the court rejects the claim on procedural grounds. But the entire basis of the petition for post-conviction relief was based on this claim.
Ronald Alan Hummell v. State of Montana, No. DA 10–0439, 2011 WL 2163010 (Supreme Court of Montana June 1, 2011)
Defendant pled guilty to felony DUI and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. He filed a petition for postconviction relief and now appeals that court’s denial of his petition. On direct appeal, Defendant argued he was entitled to a specialized neuropsychological evaluation and should have been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea because it was involuntary (due to his alleged neurological condition). The court on direct appeals rejected those arguments. He raised the same claims in a petition for postconviction relief, which the court found barred as a matter of law. Defendant now claims he received ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal, because defense counsel should have alleged his mental instability with regard to his guilty plea, and his competency to “deal with the complex reasoning that a plea hearing requires.” But Defendant failed to allege that any such deficiency satisfied the Strickland standard for IAC, and the court thereby rejected his arguments. The court affirmed his conviction and denial of postconviction petition for relief.