The Law of Competency in a Criminal Case

Posted by Chris Morales on Thu, Feb 18, 2016 @ 03:55 PM

Christopher Morales, Criminal Defense Attorney 

Every criminal defendant must be competent to stand in trial in order for their case to proceed in court. A defendant is mentally competent to stand trial [or adjudged to punishment] if he/she can do all of the following:

-Understand the nature and purpose of the criminal proceeding against him/her

- Assist in a rational manner, his/her attorney in his/her defense

-Understands his/her own status and condition in the criminal proceedings.

In other words  if the defendant does not have the mental capacity to understand the role of the judge, the role of the district attorney and be able to assist their attorney they may be found incompetent to stand trial. A person who is not competent to stand trial cannot be convicted of a crime.  The prosecution and/or the defense can raise the issue of competency at any time.

The judge is then obligated to appoint a psychiatrist and psychologist to interview the defendant and evaluate as to competency. If the doctors believe that the client is not competent then the judge will rule that the defendant is not competent and then the criminal proceedings is suspended, which means the case is put on hold. The defendant is then sent to a mental hospital in order to get help for their mental health issues. There is a time limit as to how much time a defendant can spend in a mental health hospital it has to be three years or less. If they are still not competent after three years then the case is dismissed. If the defendant regains competency a new competency hearing must be held.  

A defendant may be incompetent to stand trial because of mental illness or because of a developmental disability. A developmental disability can include conditions like: mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, and other conditions that are closely related to mental retardation. 

If you or a loved have been charged with a criminal case in California call today to set up a free consultation  (415) 552-1215. 

For more information as to criminal law and the law of competency please visit: