Heard June 10, 2015.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Appeal From Greenville County. Edward W. Miller, Plea Court Judge. G. Edward Welmaker, Post-Conviction Relief Judge. Appellate Case No. 2012-208626.
Deputy Chief Appellate Defender Wanda H. Carter, of Columbia, for Petitioner.
Attorney General Alan McCrory Wilson and Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General Karen Christine Ratigan, both of Columbia, for Respondent.
KONDUROS, J. THOMAS, J., concurs. GEATHERS, J., dissents in a separate opinion.
[413 S.C. 355] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI
In this post-conviction relief (PCR) action, Ruben Ramirez contends the PCR court erred in dismissing his application for PCR and finding plea counsel was not ineffective for failing to obtain an independent competency evaluation before allowing Ramirez to plead guilty but mentally ill [413 S.C. 356] (GBMI) to assault and battery with intent to kill (ABWIK), kidnapping, first-degree criminal sexual conduct (CSC) with a minor, first-degree burglary, and committing a lewd act upon a child. We are constrained by our standard of review to affirm the PCR court's order of dismissal.
On November 3, 2008, Ramirez pled GBMI to ABWIK, kidnapping, first-degree CSC with a minor, first-degree burglary, and committing a lewd act upon a child. At the guilty plea hearing, Ramirez informed the plea court he was eighteen [413 S.C. 357] years old, had completed the eighth grade, and could read and write. He claimed he had never been treated for mental illness or emotional problems. Ramirez stated he was in court because he was " charged with serious charges and [he knew he was] looking [at] up to life and these are serious charges and they are nothing to play with."
Plea counsel requested the plea court allow Ramirez to plead GBMI because a psychological report indicated Ramirez understood what he did was wrong but was unable to control his behavior. The State informed the plea court Ramirez underwent a competency evaluation that established he was competent to stand trial. The State introduced the competency evaluation, which was conducted when Ramirez was sixteen years old by Dr. Mayank Dalal (the Dalal evaluation).
According to the Dalal evaluation, Ramirez denied a history of inpatient or outpatient psychiatric treatment. Ramirez reported he attended regular eighth-grade classes and admitted he had been suspended from school eight times. Ramirez claimed he usually received grades of Cs or Ds in school. However, according to the Dalal evaluation, Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) school records revealed Ramirez received grades of 92 in language arts, 95 in math, 80 in social studies, 93 in science, and 95 in health. Ramirez denied a history of major medical or psychological problems. Dr. Dalal noted Ramirez had some speech difficulties, which he attributed to a language barrier. Dr. Dalal reported Ramirez " was oriented for time, place, person, and situation" and his thought process was logical and " goal directed." Dr. Dalal found Ramirez's " fund of knowledge was normal," his " abstraction ability was average," his " memory was within normal limits," his " attention and concentration were normal," and he " did not appear to be a danger to himself and/or others."
Dr. Dalal reported Ramirez was able to adequately read his rights and state the charges against him but he had difficulty with words like " solicitor," " evaluation," and " competency." Ramirez told Dr. Dalal his charges were " serious because that's about raping." In his report, Dr. Dalal opined Ramirez knew he could ask his attorney if he had any questions; however, he noted Ramirez could not remember his attorney's name. When informed of his attorney's name, Ramirez was [413 S.C. 358] able to retain and recall the name during the evaluation. Dr. Dalal reported Ramirez knew the roles of a solicitor, judge, and jury and he was able to communicate the meaning of " guilty plea, not guilty plea, and a plea bargain." According to the evaluation, Ramirez could " state the importance of evidence, witness[es], and appropriate courtroom behavior." Dr. Dalal determined Ramirez understood the charges against him, had the ability to assist in his own defense, and was competent to stand trial. Dr. Dalal concluded Ramirez's diagnostic impressions were:
AXIS I: No Diagnosis
AXIS II: No Diagnosis
AXIS III: No Diagnosis
The Dalal evaluation did not include Ramirez's intelligence quotient (IQ) score.
Ramirez introduced a report from psychological evaluations conducted by Dr. Stephen Gedo (the Gedo report). Dr. Gedo conducted the evaluations over the course of five days when Ramirez was seventeen years old. Dr. Gedo obtained most of Ramirez's historical information " from collateral sources . . . due to [his] intellectual limitations."  Ramirez told Dr. Gedo, " My mind is not right--I forget things after about [thirty] minutes, that's why punishment does not usually work with me." According to the Gedo report, " [Ramirez] was reportedly mentally retarded from birth. He reportedly did not begin speaking until age seven, and had consistent problems in school, being placed in special education classes, and being passed along even though he failed grades." Dr. Gedo noted Ramirez was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) when he was nine years old.
[413 S.C. 359] According to the Gedo report, Ramirez's " [t]hought patterns were concrete, simplistic, and often vague. He appeared to become confused easily, and his attention [appeared] to wander at times." Dr. Gedo reported Ramirez " was clearly cognitively limited across the entire range of cognitive functioning," and his " [judgment] and insight appeared poor." Dr. Gedo noted that although Ramirez " appeared to have no difficulty comprehending English, or responding appropriately to verbal or written questions," he had " difficulty understanding some words, such as 'conscience,' 'intercourse,' and 'ideal.'" Dr.
Gedo reported Ramirez " readily asked for explanations" when he misunderstood a word.
Dr. Gedo's intellectual testing on Ramirez revealed Ramirez's IQ score was between 31 and 44, which " [fell] within the [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV)] category of Severe Mental Retardation." According to the report, personality testing on Ramirez revealed his " most problematic areas [were] . . . related to intellectual functioning." Dr. Gedo noted, " Those who respond[ed] similarly often have cognitive limitations and difficulty with achievement, with interventions which may include retention in grade, and/or placement in special education courses. Inadequate language skills and limited reading comprehension are suggested." Dr. Gedo concluded Ramirez's intellectual functioning was the equivalent of a four- to seven-year-old child.
Dr. Gedo further concluded Ramirez conveyed the impression of an adolescent who had been " intellectually impaired and developmentally delayed throughout most, if not all, of his life," and he noted Ramirez had " a diagnosable psychological condition of significance, ADHD." Dr. Gedo determined Ramirez was " likely to be highly malleable; that is, to be strongly influenced by those around him, and treatment which addresses the ADHD pharmacologically, as well as teaches coping/social skills would be important in assisting him to adapt effectively to societal standards, and to have better interactions with his peers." Finally, Dr. Gedo concluded Ramirez's diagnostic impressions were:
AXIS I: [ADHD], Combined Type.
R/0 Adjustment Disorder with Mixed
Disturbance of Emotions & Conduct.
[413 S.C. 360] AXIS II: Severe Mental Retardation.
AXIS III: None known.
AXIS IV: Problems related to social environment[,] educational problems, problems with access ...