Florida Appeals Court Addresses Competency Issues

In order to stand trial, the defendant must be competent. The bar for competency is pretty low in a criminal proceeding, however. The defendant needs to be able to have enough rational understanding to be able to aid their lawyer in their own defense, and they must have a rational or factual understanding of the proceedings against him. Keep in mind that this is different from using an “insanity defense.” Competency has to do with the defendant’s mental state at trial, while an insanity defense relates to the defendant’s mental state during the commission of the crime. The law can be complicated, but your experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney can help you understand how the law applies in your case.

Stipulation to Competency

In a case recently heard by the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal, the court addressed when it’s allowable for the defendant’s attorney to stipulate to the defendant’s competency. In the case at issue, the defendant was originally charged with second degree murder and two counts of dealing in stolen property. The trial court appointed an expert to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial. At the hearing, the judge stated that they had the competency report in the file and it said the defendant was competent. The defense attorney then offered to stipulate to competency. A stipulation means that they agreed to the determination. Thus, the court found the defendant competent.

At trial the defendant was acquitted of the murder charge but was found guilty of two counts of dealing in stolen property. On this appeal, the defendant is arguing that the court should not have allowed the defense to stipulate to competency. He is also arguing that the court should have held a competency hearing or made an independent determination of competency. Finally, the defendant is arguing that the judge failed to enter a written order of competency.

Fundamental Error

The appeals court looks at this case to determine whether it was fundamental error for the judge to allow competency to be stipulated in these circumstances. The court held that it was. They noted that under Florida caselaw, a defendant cannot stipulate to competency, and that the court is responsible for conducting an independent inquiry. However, the court can use only written reports from experts to determine competency if competency can be inferred from the context. Specifically, the court here explains, if the parties have not agreed to decide whether a defendant is competent by the written reports alone, it is error for the court to allow the defendant to stipulate to competency.

In other words, the parties can agree that they will rely on the report, which essentially will act as a stipulation if the report finds the defendant competent. However, they cannot just stipulate on the basis of the report without making this initial agreement. This may seem like a meaningless distinction, but it underscores the importance of working with a skilled Tampa criminal defense attorney who fully understands all of the legal nuances in criminal defense cases.

Contact an Experienced Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Today!

When you or a loved one are charged with a crime, especially if there are mental health issues or other extenuating circumstances involved, your first call should be to an experienced Tampa criminal defense attorney. The skilled Tampa criminal defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm will defend you zealously against the charges. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with our attorneys about your case.

See Related Posts:

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Competency Called into Question in Florida Appeals Case