Competency Called into Question in Florida Appeals Case

In order for a defendant to be able to stand trial, they need to be competent. Competency has many definitions, but for the purposes of Florida criminal law it is specifically defined in the statute. There is also a body of case law that has developed around competency and when a competency hearing is needed. If you are charged with a crime, your skilled Florida criminal defense attorney will help to make sure the state adequately proves your competency to stand trial.

Competency Definition

Defendants need to be competent to stand trial. Generally, competency requires that a defendant be able to understand the purpose and nature of the charges and legal proceedings against them. Defendants also need to be able to assist their counsel with their defense. Generally, the defendant needs to be aware that they are facing potential jail time or other consequences and that the state is trying to prove a case against them. A defendant must also be able to understand that their attorney is there to help them defend themselves against the charges. They must also have some understanding of the expectations for behavior in court, such as not yelling at the judge. Just having mental illness is not nearly enough to be found incompetent to stand trial; the defendant needs to have no meaningful understanding of what is happening.

Competency vs. Insanity

It is important to understand that not being competent to stand trial is very different from an insanity defense. If someone is not competent to stand trial they are usually sent to a state psychiatric facility until they are rehabilitated enough to stand trial. An insanity defense is very different. With an insanity defense, the defendant is claiming that they were culpable for the crime due to mental disease or defect. With an insanity defense, the court focuses on the mental state of the defendant at the time the crime was committed. Competency focuses on the mental state of the defendant at the time of trial.

Requirements for Competency Hearings

This case, heard by the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal, involves the defendant’s competency to stand trial. The defendant was convicted of kidnapping with a weapon and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon causing great bodily harm. On appeal he argued that state needed to make an independent determination about his competency. The appeals court here agreed with him.

Here, the defendant stipulated to competency. A stipulation is when the defendant agrees to a factual issue rather than making the state prove it. There are some times when it makes sense for a defendant to stipulate to something, based on the advice of their Florida criminal defense attorney. However, competency to stand trial is not permitted to be stipulated to and instead there must be a determination of competency. Thus, the defendant’s case was remanded for a retroactive determination of competency.

Contact an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

Florida has many different laws in place to protect the rights of defendants. Though in order to take advantage of those protections you need a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney on your side. The experienced Tampa criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will help make sure your rights are protected. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

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