Unpublished Disposition, 922 F.2d 844 (9th Cir. 1989)

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US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 922 F.2d 844 (9th Cir. 1989)

William Lee DOURTH, Petitioner-Appellant,v.DIRECTOR, NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF PRISONS, Attorney General ofthe State of Nevada, Respondents-Appellees.

No. 89-16449.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Submitted Dec. 10, 1990.* Decided Jan. 7, 1991.

Before SNEED, SCHROEDER and CANBY, Circuit Judges.


William Lee Dourth appeals from the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Dourth, who pled guilty in the state trial court to vehicular manslaughter while driving under the influence of alcohol, brought suit against the Director of the Nevada Department of Prisons and the Nevada Attorney General alleging procedural irregularities and due process violations in his state proceedings. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (1988). We review the district court's denial of the petition de novo. See Norris v. Risley, 878 F.2d 1178, 1180 (9th Cir. 1989). We affirm.

On January 7, 1987, appellant allowed his car to cross into oncoming traffic and it collided with another vehicle, killing its occupant. Appellant, who was also seriously injured, was taken to a nearby hospital. Blood tests showed that he had a blood alcohol content exceeding .10 percent. On December 1, 1989, Dourth pled guilty to causing the death of another by driving a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol. See Nev.Rev.Stat. Sec. 484.3795 (1989).

Before Dourth entered his guilty plea, he was examined by two psychiatrists pursuant to a court order to determine Dourth's competency to stand trial. The trial court conducted a hearing on June 5, 1987. Both psychiatrists testified that Dourth was competent to stand trial. The doctors concluded that Dourth understood the nature of the charges against him and that he could aid and assist in his own defense. On June 1, 1987, the trial judge entered an order finding Dourth competent to stand trial.

After his conviction, Dourth appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court. The Nevada Supreme Court held against Dourth and dismissed his appeal. On April 3, 1989, appellant filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court. In his petition, Dourth raised several of the claims he had already made in his appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.

1) The trial court erred in finding the petitioner competent because it failed to comply with Nev.Rev.Stat. Sec. 178.425 by failing to obtain two "certified" psychiatric examinations.

2) Conviction of an accused who is legally incompetent violates due process under Nev.Rev.Stat. Sec. 178.400.

3) Petitioner was unable to assist his trial counsel with his defense because he was incompetent as defined by Nev.Rev.Stat. Sec. 178.400(2).

4) It was a violation of due process, fair trial, and right to counsel, to require the presence of a defined mental disorder in determining the competency of the defendant to stand trial.

5) The trial court, during a competency hearing that failed to comply with the statutes, applied an incorrect standard to the determination of capacity.

These are the only claims that are before this court.1 

Having found that the appellant had properly exhausted these claims in state court proceedings, the district court correctly concluded that claims one, two, three and five were interrelated and only addressed the propriety of actions under state law taken by the state court. The United States Supreme Court has clearly and repeatedly indicated that habeas relief is only available for detentions that violate the Constitution or applicable federal law. "State prisoners are entitled to relief on federal habeas corpus only upon proving that their detention violates the fundamental liberties of the person, safeguarded against state action by the Federal Constitution." Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 312 (1963); see also Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 119 (1982); Miller v. Stagner, 757 F.2d 988, 993-94 (9th Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1048 (1986). A prisoner who challenges the correctness of state procedures and state laws without alleging any deprivation of federal rights is not entitled to habeas relief. See Givens v. Housewright, 786 F.2d 1378, 1381 (9th Cir. 1986). The district court's decision to dismiss Dourth's state law claims was correct.

The court did address Dourth's fourth claim that his due process rights under the Constitution were violated by the trial court's application of the incorrect competency standard. The district court, noting that this was a federal constitutional claim, reviewed the evidence presented at Dourth's competency hearing, and properly concluded that Dourth was competent to stand trial.

The Supreme Court has held that "the failure to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant's right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial deprives him of his due process right to a fair trial." Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 172 (1975). In Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960), the Court stated that the test of a defendant's competency must be "whether [defendant] has sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding--and whether [defendant] has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him." Id. at 402.

The state trial judge listened to the uncontroverted testimony of two psychiatrists who both concluded that Dourth was fully capable of aiding counsel in his own defense and that he understood the charges filed against him. See Transcript of Competency Hearing Proceedings at 9-11, 24-25 (June 5, 1987). After the hearing, the trial judge concluded that Dourth was competent to stand trial. The judge emphasized that all the witnesses agreed that Dourth "was presently competent to understand the nature of the criminal charges against him and to aid and assist his counsel in his defense." Order Finding Defendant Competent and Remanding to Justice Court at 1 (June 11, 1987).

The federal district court correctly held that the testimony at Dourth's competency proceeding clearly demonstrates that he was competent to stand trial. The state court applied the appropriate criteria for determining competency and there were no procedural defects in the hearing process. The district court properly followed the standards established by the Supreme Court and this circuit for reviewing a state court's determination of competency. See Myers v. Rhay, 577 F.2d 504, 509-10 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 968 (1978).



The panel finds this case appropriate for submission without argument pursuant to 9th Cir.R. 34-4 and Fed.R.App. 34(a)


This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3


In his appellate briefs, petitioner raises several new arguments that were not presented to the district court. This court will only address claims that were properly presented to the district court. See Lang v. Callahan, 788 F.2d 1416, 1418 (9th Cir. 1986); United States v. Greger, 716 F.2d 1275, 1277 (9th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 465 U.S. 1007 (1984); see also Messelt v. Alabama, 595 F.2d 247, 250 (5th Cir. 1979) ("As a general rule, contentions urged for the first time before this Court are not properly before us on an appeal from the denial of relief under 28 U.S.C.A. Sec. 2254.")