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In the United States, a core requirement for a criminal defendant to stand trial is “competency.” This refers to the ability of a criminal defendant to not only understand the severity of the charges levied against him or her, but also the range of consequence that they may face as a result of the criminal proceedings. In addition, to be considered competent, a criminal defendant must be shown to be able to advocate on his or her own behalf and work alongside his or her lawyer with a reasonable degree of logical and rational understanding of the criminal proceedings. If you believe that a loved one is not competent to stand trial, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney to discuss your case.

Competency to Stand Trial: A Constitutional Guarantee

Competence is of the utmost importance when determining whether or not a person may stand trial. This is because there is a Constitutional right that a defendant not only has an advocate in the Court, if he or she so desires, but also understands the role of the advocate and any decision that he or she must make. For example, a criminal defendant must understand what is happening to be able to listen to the advice of counsel and decide whether he or she should testify in court or take a plea deal.

Competency in Florida

According to Florida law, competency (or lack thereof) to proceed must be proven by mental health experts. The criminal defendant must be evaluated by at least two experts and the following must be evaluated.

Does the defendant have the capacity to:

  • Understand and appreciate the charges and allegations made against the defendant;

  • Understand and appreciate any and all possible punishments that may result due to the determination of jury as to the innocence or guilt of the defendant;

  • Understand and appreciate the fact that the criminal proceedings are adversarial in nature;

  • Act according to Court behavior and standards; and

  • Testify on his/her behalf and work alongside counsel for the best advocacy possible.

After a Criminal Defendant is Found Incompetent

Accordingly, if the experts find that the defendant is not competent to stand trial, they must determine the appropriate treatment plan for the defendant so that he or she may attain competence at a later date. In addition, the mental health experts must report to the court:

  • The determination as to the mental illness that is affecting the criminal defendant;

  • The treatment plan and alternative treatment plans that may best help the criminal defendant alleviate symptoms and aid in the healing of the mental illness; and

  • The likelihood that the criminal defendant may eventually be able to stand trial, and the possible duration of the treatment before the defendant may be considered competent to stand trial.

Psychotropic Medication is Not a Bar to Competency

It is important to note that just because a criminal defendant has a mental illness and is in treatment, does not mean that automatically the defendant is considered “incompetent.” If the treatment is working and/or if the criminal defendant is being treated with psychotropic medication and becomes able to appreciate the charges against him or her and may aid in his or her own criminal proceeding, then competency to stand trial may be determined. The use of psychotropic medication does not automatically make the criminal defendant “incompetent.”

The State’s Obligation to Involuntarily Commit a Criminal Defendant

A person that is found to be incompetent for trial or sentencing for a felony offense may be involuntarily committed if, upon a finding of clear and convincing evidence that the person is mentally ill, there is a substantial likelihood that he or she will cause serious harm to him or herself or another person, less restrictive alternatives for treatment would be inappropriate or ineffectual, and finally, there is a substantial likelihood that criminal defendant will respond to the treatment option available and may make him or her competent in the future.

If your loved one is not competent to stand trial, please contact West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney William Wallshein for a confidential consultation.

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