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How Is Competency to Stand Trial A Factor in Criminal Proceedings?

Posted on November 9, 2023 in

Competency to stand trial is legally not related to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime. Thus, it is not a defense. Rather, the issue of competency relates to the defendant’s state of mind during criminal proceedings and not during the time the crime was committed.

How is Competency to Stand Trial Defined?

Having a person deemed competent to stand trial is really because of philosophical and practical reasons, rather than just legalities. The defendant must be competent enough to be able to work with his or her attorney during pre-trial preparations. Otherwise, there is an unfair and greater chance of a conviction. Furthermore, if an incompetent person is convicted, it is very likely that the significance of the punishment or consequences of the crime will not be understood or appreciated.

Competency is not just about the person’s IQ level or mental condition.  Competency to stand in trial refers to the more specific tasks and understanding than the outcomes of intelligence or diagnostic tests. If the court determines the defendant is able to understand the surroundings, receive and interpret information, and make decisions based on that information, it will likely find the defendant competent. Even a person with a low IQ or mental condition is fit to stand trial if the person has a certain level of knowledge or understanding. A defendant’s unintelligence, education level, language difficulties, and challenges communicating are generally insufficient to support a finding of incompetency. A court can even find a defendant who has been diagnosed with a mental illness fit to proceed as long as the illness does not rise to the level of incompetence. For example, if a defendant is taking prescription medications to manage mental illness, the court may find the defendant competent and proceeds with the case. Also, if it is determined through a psychological evaluation, that medication will help improve the defendant’s mental state, the court can order that the defendant use the medication.  On the flip side, a person with the average level of intelligence and without any serious mental condition may be found incompetent to stand trial.

Judges are expected to rely on evaluation results but they may also consider other factors at play, such as the demeanor of the defendant in court. The court is also expected to consider the following when evaluating the competency of the defendant:

  1. Whether or not the defendant can adequately communicate with the defense attorney
  2. Whether or not the defendant can understand and process information
  3. Whether or not the defendant can make decisions regarding the case, and
  4. Whether or not the defendant fully understands the nature and severity of the charges brought against him, including the consequences and possible penalties to the crime committed.

How Does a Defendant Raise the Issue of  Incompetence to Stand Trial?

Before a trial proceeds, the issue on competency should already have been discussed. It is not only the defendant who can raise this issue. In some situations, even the judge is deemed incompetent. However, once the issue of competency is raised, the concerned individual will be required to submit a competency evaluation done by a state-appointed psychologist or psychiatrist. All proceedings relative to the case are halted until the evaluation is done. If the defendant wants, he or she may opt to have his or her own competency evaluation done by a professional of his or her choice. As soon as the evaluations are done and the reports are already submitted, a hearing is scheduled. If it is established that the defendant is competent to stand trial, the criminal proceedings continue. On the other hand, if the defendant is deemed to be incompetent to stand trial, he or she may be committed to a state mental health facility to undergo programs designed to care and treat the defendant so that he or she may obtain competency to stand trial

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Arizona Today

If you or anyone you know has been charged with a crime and is looking into bringing up the issue of incompetency in court, it is smart to seek the legal advice of one of the best criminal defense attorneys in Arizona. Our criminal defense attorneys at Howard Snader Law will make sure that you will get a thorough evaluation so that you will be able to prepare for your trial.

Call us today for a free case evaluation