LITTLE ROCK — A defendant’s constitutional rights were violated when statements he made during a mental evaluation were admitted at his trial in Crawford County Circuit Court as evidence of guilt, the state Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.
The appeals court ordered a new trial for Rodney Scott Porta, who was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia with intent to manufacture methamphetamine and manufacture of methamphetamine in February 2012 after Van Buren police stopped a vehicle in which he was a passenger and found a meth lab in the trunk. He was sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Before his trial, Porta’s lawyer requested a mental evaluation of his client, and the trial judge granted the request. During the evaluation, Porta said the paraphernalia police found in the vehicle belonged to him, among other incriminating statements he made.
Porta’s statements during the mental evaluation were presented by the state during his trial as evidence of his guilt, over the objections of Porta’s lawyer, who said admission of the statements would violate Porta’s constitutional rights to due process and against self-incrimination.
In its opinion Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals said the issue has not been addressed in any previous Arkansas case, but it noted that the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a similar case — Collins v. Auger — that "a defendant should not be compelled to choose between exercising his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and his due process right to seek out available defenses" such as mental incompetence.
"We find the reasoning employed in Collins to be compelling and applicable to the issue facing us here," Judge David Glover wrote in the Arkansas Court of Appeals’ decision.
Judge Rita Gruber wrote in a separate opinion that she agreed with the decision to overturn Porta’s conviction, but she said she also would have ruled that the statements from the mental evaluation were inadmissible because they were introduced for a purpose other than determining Porta’s mental condition, which was the reason the evaluation was ordered in the first place.