Competence to Stand Trial
Under the law, a person who has been accused of a crime must be able to understand the nature of the proceedings and be able to assist his or her attorney in defending the case. In many circumstances, the defendant may be unable to satisfy either of these requirements due to a mental illness or condition. In these situations, the court will take measures to ensure that the defendant is competent to be tried.
Under California Penal Code Section 1368 PC, a judge or attorney can question the defendant’s competency to stand trial. If the judge questions the competency of the defendant, the defendant’s attorney can request time to form his or her own opinion. Alternatively, a defense attorney can declare a doubt as to the competency of his or her client.
Once a doubt has been declared, the underlying criminal case will be put on hold and the court will conduct a competency hearing. In Los Angeles, the case will be transferred to the Mental Health Courthouse which is responsible for conducting competency hearings. A psychiatrist or qualified psychologist will be appointed to evaluate the defendant to determine whether or not he or she is competent to stand trial. There would have to be a showing by preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is not competent to stand trial. If the defendant is found competent, the case will return to the original judge and will proceed normally.
If the defendant is ruled incompetent to stand trial, the criminal case proceedings will be suspended and the Court can take one of several courses of action. The Court can commit the defendant to a state mental hospital or treatment center, the Court can commit the defendant to an approved treatment facility or the Court can order the defendant to undergo outpatient treatment. In many cases, the Court’s action will depend on the conduct alleged in the underlying offense. Judges may be more likely to order that a defendant be committed when the underlying crime is a violent crime or a sex offense.
A defendant who receives treatment will be expected to provide reports regarding his or her progress. In many cases, a defendant can be returned to competency after receiving proper medication or therapy. If a defendant is returned to competency, he or she would be expected to stand trial on the original charges.
In some cases, the treatment center may determine that the defendant will never be able to be returned to competency. In these cases, the court would appoint a conservator for the defendant who would be responsible for making decisions on the defendant’s behalf. The underlying criminal charges will typically be dismissed where there is no possibility that the defendant will regain competency.
A defendant’s competency is often confused with the issue of insanity. Insanity is a defense that can be raised at trial if there is a question as to whether or not the defendant was aware or in control of his actions at the time the crime was committed. Competency relates to the defendant’s ability to stand trial for his or her actions. A defendant who is found to be competent can still raise a valid insanity defense at trial. If found not guilty by reason of insanity, a defendant can be committed to a state hospital or other treatment facility. In many cases, a defendant can suffer from the same mental illness or condition both when the crime was committed and when he or she is brought to court. In these situations, the defendant would have to be made competent before he or she could be brought to trial. If made competent, the defendant may have a valid insanity defense. In many cases, the prosecutor may understand that the offense occurred as the result of a mental illness and may agree to consider treatment in lieu of more severe punishment.
If you or a loved one have been arrested for a criminal offense and you believe there may be a competency issue, it is crucial that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away. Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut is a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience who can help clients and their families navigate competency concerns that may arise.
For more information about Los Angeles competence to stand trial, and to schedule your free consultation, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.