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State v. Matharu

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

October 20, 2017

STATE OF OHIO Plaintiff-Appellee
HARINDER MATHARU Defendant-Appellant

         Criminal Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2014-CR-1117

          MATHIAS H. HECK, JR., by ANDREW T. FRENCH, Atty. Reg. No. 0069384, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Montgomery County Prosecutor's Office, Appellate Division, Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          JOHN S. PINARD, Atty. Reg. No. 0085567 Attorney for Defendant-Appellant


          TUCKER, J.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant Harinder Matharu appeals from the trial court's judgment finding him guilty of aggravated vehicular homicide and sentencing him to seven years incarceration. Matharu contends that the trial court erred in accepting his plea of no contest and that his conviction should be reversed because the trial court failed to have him evaluated for competency prior to his plea.

         {¶ 2} We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the conviction.

         I. Facts and Proceedings

         {¶ 3} On October 12, 2013, Matharu was involved in an accident when his vehicle went left of center and collided with a vehicle operated by Amanda Looman. After being in a coma for ten days, Looman was pronounced brain dead. An eyewitness to the accident indicated that she observed Matharu's vehicle approaching behind the witness's vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. The witness further stated that when Matharu attempted to pass her vehicle, he collided with the car driven by Looman. Matharu's blood alcohol level was more than double the legal limit and he was driving under a suspended license.

         {¶ 4} On May 22, 2014, Matharu was indicted on four counts of aggravated vehicular homicide in violation of R.C. 2903.06. Matharu entered a plea of not guilty. On July 14, 2014, Matharu filed a motion to suppress evidence regarding the search of his vehicle and the admission of the results of a blood draw taken while he was hospitalized following the crash. A hearing was conducted on September 25, 2014, following which the trial court overruled the motion to suppress. A jury trial was scheduled for October 27, 2015.

         {¶ 5} During the final pretrial conference conducted on October 19, 2015, Matharu raised the issue of his mental competence to stand trial. He then filed a document entitled "Plea of Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity and Suggestion of Incompetency to Stand Trial." [1] On October 20, 2015, the trial court conducted a hearing regarding whether, given Matharu's suggested incompetency, a competency evaluation was required. There was no disagreement that immediately after the collision, Matharu spent 40 days in the hospital, and that he was in a coma for approximately two weeks of that time. Nor was there any disagreement that Matharu had suffered from bleeding in the brain. Defense counsel indicated that Matharu was unable to recall the events of the collision and that he also suffered from short-term memory loss. The State cited State v. Brooks, 25 Ohio St.3d 144, 495 N.E.2d 407 (1986) and State v. Hoffer, 2d Dist. Montgomery No. 17241, 1999 WL 335136 (May 28, 1999), for the proposition that amnesia, by itself, does not render a defendant incompetent to stand trial.

         {¶ 6} Matharu testified that he has trouble remembering things he has previously told people and he forgets the details of books he is reading. Likewise, he stated that if he watches a movie, he sometimes forgets the name of characters. He testified that he sometimes forgets the day of the week as well as conversations he has had. He testified that he remembered his counsel meeting with him the week before the hearing, and he was able to recall some long term memories. He testified that he sometimes has to write down information in order to remember it.

         {¶ 7} The trial court declined to order a forensic competency evaluation. On October 22, 2015, the court conducted a competency hearing. At that time no further evidence was submitted, and Matharu rested upon his testimony from the October 20 hearing. The trial court rendered a decision and entry finding Matharu competent to stand trial. In its decision, the trial court found, in pertinent part:

Matharu argues he is incompetent to stand trial due to short-term memory loss and his inability to remember the events surrounding the October 2013 collision. During the October 20, 2015 hearing, Matharu testified that he is able to write down matters of importance if he chooses, which he has done in the past, and that he recognizes his counsel * * *. Matharu remembers meeting with his attorneys at jail and discussing the motion to suppress hearings. He was able to recall that his wife informed him of the status of his injury, a brain hemorrhage, and that he did not have any treatment for this injury. Matharu remembers that his wife worked at Kroger in Springfield, Ohio before Matharu's collision and knew that she currently works there. He was able to recall that he was at Miami Valley Hospital following the collision and some of the treatment provided. Matharu was able to testify that he was employed at a gas station in Springfield, Ohio and that he remembered his friend, Jake, whom he met at the gas station. Further, Matharu understood that a trial was looming. * * *
Matharu's testimony indicated that though he has some memory loss, he has a remaining ability to counsel with his lawyers and an understanding to some extent of ...

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