STERLE TRICE v. COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKYAnnotate this Case
FEBRUARY 15, 2002; 10:00 a.m.
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED
C ommonwealth O f K entucky
C ourt O f A ppeals
APPEAL FROM CUMBERLAND CIRCUIT COURT
HONORABLE JAMES G. WEDDLE, JUDGE
ACTION NO. 00-CR-00010
COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY
REVERSING AND REMANDING
** ** ** ** **
DYCHE, JOHNSON, and KNOPF, JUDGES.
Sterle Trice appeals his conviction by a
Cumberland County jury for second-degree criminal abuse.
The jury fixed his sentence at two years and six months
which the trial court imposed.
Trice claims the trial court
erred in denying his motion for funds for a mental health expert
to assist in his defense.
Because we believe this issue to be
dispositive, we need not address the other issues raised in this
Accordingly, we reverse and remand this case for the
appointment of a mental health expert to assist the defendant in
preparing for a new trial on the charge of second-degree criminal
Trice was indicted in March, 2000, for first-degree
criminal abuse because of injuries his son sustained after Trice
had used a foreign object to spank the boy for disciplinary
The child suffered physical pain and numerous wounds to
his body as a result.
On May 17, 2000, Trice, who was indigent and
represented by a public advocate, filed a motion for a countyfunded mental health expert to assist him in preparing his
Trice also requested an ex parte hearing on the matter.
Along with the motion was a proposed order that Dr. Eric Y.
Drogin, a certified forensic psychologist at the University of
Louisville School of Medicine, be paid for up to thirty hours at
the rate of $200.00 per hour for defense-related services and
$125.00 per hour for travel time.
The trial court held an ex parte hearing on Trice's
motion on May 25, 2000.
During the hearing, Trice's trial
counsel informed the court of Trice's extensive mental health
history and of her belief that he may have a capacity defense.
In addition, she informed the court that Trice was diagnosed as
Trice's counsel also had in her possession
Trice's mental health records, which she offered to the court for
Those records, which were sealed and included in the
record for future review, clearly indicated that Trice was
schizophrenic, had a history of depression and substance abuse,
and had been sexually abused as a child.
Nevertheless, the trial
court denied defense counsel's motion for funds without giving an
explanation for the denial.
On June 2, 2000, Trice’s trial counsel filed an ex
parte motion for reconsideration of the original motion for funds
to hire a mental health expert.
In support of the motion,
counsel cited Trice's many diagnoses, which range from manicdepressive disorder to paranoid schizophrenia.
She further set
forth a list of reasons Trice's case required the assistance of a
mental health expert.
The trial court heard the motion on
September 28, 2000, along with another defense motion.
Trice's trial counsel raised the issue of the motion for funds
for a mental health expert, the court interrupted, stating simply
that the motion had been overruled.
No further arguments were
heard on the matter.
When an indigent defendant makes a preliminary showing
that his sanity at the time of the offense is likely to be a
significant factor at trial, the state must, at a minimum, assure
the defendant access to a mental health expert who will conduct
an appropriate examination and assist in evaluating, preparing,
and presenting the defense.
Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 82-83,
84 L. Ed. 2d. 53, 66, 105 S. Ct. 1087 (1985).
Kentucky law is in accord with the United States
Supreme Court's decision in Ake.
KRS 31.110(1)(b) provides that
an indigent defendant is "[t]o be provided [at state expense]
with the necessary services and facilities of representation
including investigation and other preparation."
Supreme Court, in Binion v. Commonwealth, Ky., 891 S.W.2d 383
(1985), stated that in cases where the defendant's sanity is at
issue, more than an examination by a neutral psychiatrist was
The Court went on to say that "there must be an
appointment of a psychiatrist to provide assistance to the
accused to help evaluate the strength of his defense, to offer
his own expert diagnosis at trial, and to identify weaknesses in
the prosecution's case by testifying and/or preparing counsel to
cross-examine opposing experts."
Id. at 386.
To be entitled to the assistance of a mental health
expert, an indigent defendant must show that his mental state is
“seriously in question.”
719, 722-23 (1994).
Hunter v. Commonwealth, Ky. 869 S.W.2d
“[T]rial courts are not required to provide
funds to defense experts for fishing expeditions."
Commonwealth, Ky., 670 S.W.2d 837, 838 (1994).
The standard for
determining whether a criminal defendant is entitled to funds for
expert assistance is whether such assistance is “reasonably
On appeal, our role is simply to determine
whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Trice's
motion for funds.
Foley v. Commonwealth, Ky. 17 S.W.3d 878, 887
In the instant case, it is clear that Trice suffers
from numerous mental health problems.
His trial counsel informed
the trial court of such and provided it with Trice's lengthy
mental health records.
Because the preliminary evidence of
Trice’s serious mental problems is both too extensive and too
complex for a non-expert to discount, we find the trial court's
denial of expert assistance to be an abuse of discretion.
Consequently, Trice’s conviction for second-degree
criminal abuse must be vacated, and this matter must be remanded
for appointment of a mental health expert and for a new trial.
However, Trice’s conviction for the lesser-included offense of
second-degree criminal abuse had the effect of acquitting him on
the greater charge of first-degree criminal abuse.
the double jeopardy clause precludes retrial on the greater
McGinnis v. Wine, Ky., 959 S.W.2d 437, 439 (1998).
For the reasons stated, we reverse Trice's conviction
and remand this case to the trial court for the appointment of a
mental health expert to assist Trice in preparing for a new trial
on the charge of second-degree criminal abuse.
JOHNSON, JUDGE, CONCURS.
DYCHE, JUDGE, DISSENTS.
BRIEF FOR APPELLANT:
BRIEF FOR APPELLEE:
Irvin J. Halbeib
Appellate Public Advocate
Albert B. Chandler III
J. Gary Bale
Assistant Attorney General