Florida Court Discusses Evidence Establishing a Defendant is Entitled to a Mental Competence Hearing

The United States Constitution includes numerous provisions that protect criminal defendants. Among other things, it dictates that they must be mentally competent before they can be tried for a criminal offense. Thus, if a criminal matter proceeds to trial despite concerns regarding a defendant’s mental competence, it may constitute a violation of their constitutional rights. Recently a Florida court explained what evidence a defendant must produce to show that a trial court harbored a bona fide doubt about their competence in a case in which the defendant appealed his sentence following his conviction for producing child pornography.  If you are charged with a sex offense, it is smart to meet with a dedicated Tampa sex crime defense lawyer to evaluate your possible defenses.

The Facts of the Case

It is reported that the defendant was charged with two counts of producing child pornography. The case proceeded to trial, and he was convicted. The court subsequently sentenced him to 720 months in prison. The defendant appealed, arguing, among other things, that the trial court committed an abuse of discretion by denying his motion to undergo a competency evaluation and hearing.

Establishing a Bona Fide Doubt About a Defendant’s Mental Competence

The court declined to adopt the defendant’s reasoning and denied his appeal. In doing so, it explained that it reviewed a district court’s failure to order a competency hearing under the abuse of discretion standard.

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution requires that a criminal defendant must be mentally competent to proceed to trial. Pursuant to federal law, a defendant will be deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial if they are suffering from a mental defect or disease that negatively impacts their ability to understand the consequences or nature of the charges against them or to properly assist in their defense.

The Fifth Amendment grants criminal defendants the right to competency hearings in cases in which the court learns of information that raises a bona fide question as to whether a defendant is mentally competent. This right is also protected by federal law, which dictates that any time after the government begins prosecuting a defendant for an offense and before the sentencing of a defendant, either party may move for a hearing to assess the defendant’s mental competency.

The courts will weigh three elements to determine if the information presented to the trial court shows a bona fide doubt about a person’s competence: proof of their irrational behavior, their demeanor at trial, and whether there is a medical opinion about their competence. In the subject case, after considering all of the elements, the court found the trial court did not abuse its discretion. As such, it affirmed the defendant’s sentence.

Speak to a Skilled Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Sex crimes typically carry significant penalties and a lifelong requirement to register as a sex offender, and a strong defense is critical to a good outcome for anyone charged with a sex offense. If you are accused of committing a sex crime, the skilled Tampa lawyers of Hanlon Law possess the knowledge and experience needed to help you seek the best legal outcome possible under the facts of your case. You can contact Hanlon Law via the form online or at 813-228-7095 to set up a conference.