A Vietnamese immigrant accused of punching a high-ranking Vietnamese diplomat visiting Washington this summer will undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether his actions resulted from being tortured as a child under the communist regime.
“I know enough about Tuan Le so far to know that there is a possible psychiatric defense,” Kenneth M. Robinson, Mr. Le’s new defense attorney, told U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle at a status hearing last week.
Mr. Robinson must have his client evaluated and submit a report to the court by Dec. 2. If Mr. Le’s attorneys determine their client has a psychiatric or psychological disorder — particularly one that would make him not competent to stand trial — federal prosecutors have the right to detain Mr. Le for up to 60 days for their own evaluation.
Mr. Le, 33, of Atlanta, is accused of punching in the face Nguyen Quoc Huy, vice chairman of the prime minister’s office for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, during a June 21 protest at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, according to filings in U.S. District Court in the District.
He has been charged with assault on a foreign official and faces up to three years in prison and deportation to Vietnam if found guilty.
Mr. Robinson said Mr. Le, who emigrated to the United States in 1993 and is a legal permanent resident, is the son of a black U.S. soldier who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. He said his client was taunted and tortured by North Vietnamese communists in the years following the conflict.
“Any of these, what they would call ‘half-breeds,’ were treated worse than, say, a white soldier’s baby,” Mr. Robinson said. “They were very abusive of him and his family and other kids like him.”
During one instance, when Mr. Le was about 5, Mr. Robinson said, communist soldiers ordered him to dance. When the child refused, he said, the soldiers stuck bayonets through the backs of his heels, which kept him from walking for more than a year.
Mr. Robinson also said security guards with the communist officials recognized Mr. Le during the protest in June and began taunting him.
“They really singled him out and were really giving it to him,” he said. “He just lost control.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hegyi, who is prosecuting the case, said he could not comment on the evaluation proceedings.
Mr. Robinson replaced federal public defender David Bos. The case has attracted support from the Vietnamese community in the United States, which has established a fund to help pay Mr. Le’s legal fees.
Mr. Le also faces deportation based on a conviction for assault in California. Mr. Le’s Vienna, Va.-based immigration lawyer, Parastoo Zahedi, said she plans to argue that Mr. Le has claims to being a U.S. citizen and should not be deported.