Sometimes, it is necessary for the court to assess an individual’s competency to stand trial. Penal Code 1368 details the process for assessing this competency. The court may decide that an individual is not competent to stand trial if they have certain mental disorders or developmental disabilities.
The team at the Simmrin Law Group can help you with issues related to your competency to stand trial. We’ll help you go over the conditions that may impact your competency in California.
Defining an Individual’s Competence to Stand Trial
There are times when the court must decide if someone is competent to stand trial. Therefore, it’s important to define competency in legal terms. Individuals are considered competent if they understand:
- The purpose of the proceedings they are facing
- Their condition or status with regards to their criminal charges
Individuals must also be able to provide assistance to the members of their defense team. They have to be able to act in a rational manner while handling their case. Individuals who are not able to satisfy these conditions can be declared incompetent to stand trial.
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Common Competency Concerns Brought Before Court
A person’s ability to understand the circumstances around them isn’t defined by their ability to communicate. A person who can speak in complete sentences and without slurring may still struggle to comprehend the legalities of a criminal case. On the other hand, a person who cannot communicate may understand the legalities of their situation.
With that in mind, what do common competency cases in California look like? In most cases, a judge will have to assess whether or not an individual can:
- Process information spoken or otherwise given to them
- Respond to information given to them
- Make decisions based on applied information
- Understand the gravity of the accusations leveled against them
More specifically, a person’s competency is not based on their economic standing, their level of education, or even their lack of fluency in a court’s spoken language. Most competency cases can involve a defendant with significant mental or physical disabilities. Those disabilities may be brought about by birth, injury, or age to qualify the defendant for a competency hearing.
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Reasons for Incompetency to Stand Trial in California
There are many factors that could cause the court to decide a defendant is incompetent to stand trial in California. Generally, the competency to stand trial is impacted by a person’s mental health disorders. Developmental disabilities can also impair an individual’s ability to stand trial.
There are many different mental health disorders that could lead to a lack of competence to stand trial. These disorders can be properly assessed by a mental health care professional. The state of California also uses specific definitions for “developmental disabilities.”
Development disabilities are issues that arise while someone is a minor. Individuals are considered minors until they turn 18 years old in California. Their disabilities must continue indefinitely to be considered developmental disabilities.
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Representation in Competency Hearings
Incompetency hearings do not strive to punish the defendant for their alleged lack of understanding of a situation. Instead, these hearings are strictly educational. Both the defendant and an applicable legal professional can work together – if possible – to establish competence.
Other parties may also join in at a competency hearing, if without formal notice of the legal proceedings. The defendant’s family members may come to give witness accounts regarding the defendant’s behavior.
These accounts do not have to defend or condemn the defendant’s behavior. Instead, loved ones’ statements should detail how capable the defendant is of understanding the ongoing legal proceedings.
Electing a Representative for an Incompetent Party
If it’s determined that the defendant is not competent, they cannot be charged for the crimes they allegedly committed. However, a court may use a competency hearing to recommend a guardian or conservator for the individual in question.
This election does not see the conservator held responsible for the defendant’s alleged crimes but rather ensures the defendant’s wellbeing after the competency trial.
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Competency Hearings and PC 1368
In certain circumstances, a judge can order a competency hearing under PC 1368. Generally, a judge orders this hearing if they have reason to believe a defendant is incompetent to stand trial. Judges who hold this belief must:
- Enter their findings into the court records
- Question the defense lawyer to determine if they also believe their client to be incompetent
This can lead to a competency hearing. During this hearing, it is up to a defense lawyer to show that their client is incompetent to stand trial. However, a competency hearing is not the same as a criminal trial. Here, the defense does not have to prove the defendant’s incompetence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Instead, the defense has to show that there is a “preponderance of evidence” that their client is not able to stand trial. The defense can gather evidence to support their claim before the competency hearing. This often involves ordering the defendant to enroll in a treatment facility for a period of 72 hours.
Staying a Case for Conditional Treatment
This three-day stay allows the professionals at the treatment facility to assess the defendant’s condition. They can provide the court with an evaluation of the defendant’s ability to stand trial for their crimes.
Find out more about how to handle a competency hearing with a criminal defense lawyer by calling the Simmrin Law Group.
The Results of a Competency Hearing in California
A judge determines whether someone is competent to stand trial at the end of a competency hearing. If a judge finds the defendant to be competent, the trial progresses as normal. So, what happens if the judge determines a defendant is incompetent?
In this case, the defendant’s criminal trial gets put on hold. Criminal proceedings will be suspended while the defendant receives treatment which focuses on determining if the defendant will be able to ever stand trial.
Generally, individuals in California can receive treatment for up to four months. However, the period of treatment can be extended in some cases. The exact amount of time used for treatment can vary on a case-by-case basis.
Competency and the Outcome of Criminal Trials
No criminal defense attorney can use incompetency as a legal defense. It is up to a court to decide whether or not to bring the issue of competence to the table.
If, after a competency hearing, treatment of the defendant’s condition doesn’t improve the defendant’s understanding of their situation, the case against them will close. This is the case even if there is ample evidence of the defendant’s liability. The state of California will not punish an individual who displays no understanding of their charges and/or who cannot recover.
Ask a Lawyer Today About Your Competency to Stand Trial in California
Learn more about Penal Code 1368 and your competency to stand trial in California with the Simmrin Law Group. Our criminal defense lawyers in Los Angeles are fully prepared to address your legal needs. You can call us or complete our online contact form.
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