Consider the following hypothetical.
A criminal defendant is charged with a crime.
He is represented by an attorney, who conducts an initial interview and learns that the defendant doesn’t remember any of the details of the crime. He does remember, however, that on the day in question he’d been drinking heavily and using drugs. He has trouble understanding the attorney’s questions, is very disoriented, and has a lengthy history of mental illness.
What normally happens next?
The answer is that the attorney moves the court to order the defendant to have both a competency to stand trial examination and a criminal responsibility evaluation.
The reasons for this are: (1) a defendant must be able to help the attorney with the criminal case including the trial (competency) and, (2) if the defendant was legally insane at the time of the alleged criminal act, they could be found not guilty by reason of insanity (criminal responsibility).
The following is a brief summary of the law in these two areas.
Competency to stand trial
Upon a proper showing, a defendant can be ordered to have a competency examination at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry (the state’s sole certified forensic facility) to determine if, because of their mental condition, they are incapable of understanding the nature and object of the proceedings against them or assisting in their defense in a rational manner. There is a presumption that a defendant is competent.
After the examination has been completed a report is submitted to the court which includes the doctor’s opinion.
If the court finds the defendant is incompetent to stand trial there are then two possibilities.
The first is when it is found that there is a substantial probability that the defendant, if provided a course of treatment, will attain competency within an allowed period of time defined as one-third of the maximum sentence if convicted of the charged crime(s) or 15 months whichever is less. The defendant is then ordered to be treated at the forensic center for this purpose.
If competency has not been restored within this period, the case must be dismissed and the defendant is then referred to the probate court for a civil commitment proceeding and possible additional treatment.
Next week - Part 2