Commentary by Juvenile Defense and Criminal Law Attorney Sam Spital:
“On January 8, 2013, CNS Channel 8 online news printed an article regarding a 17 year old boy facing attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon charges in adult court and life in state prison if convicted for repeatedly stabbing the fiancé of his mother multiple times with a butcher knife in the head and neck and who will soon have a competency hearing. This is a process in which a defendant is evaluated to determine whether he is competent to understand the charges and assist his attorney in order to stand trial. The Public Defender handling the case was reported to have said his client has serious psychiatric issues and a diagnosis of mental illness.
It is noteworthy that Penal Code section 1367 (a) mandates a person cannot stand trial or be sentenced for a crime if he/she is mentally incompetent. In order to arrive at such a conclusion the defense attorney must rely upon a psychiatrist or forensic psychologist to evaluate the accused; then, the mental health expert is placed under oath and must testify at the competency hearing it is his/ her professional opinion that because of the mental illness of the accused the defendant is incapable of understanding the nature &/or purpose of the criminal proceedings or is incapable of assisting in his/her defense &/or cooperating with defense counsel.
Further, it is the burden of the defense to prove the defendant is incompetent pursuant to PC 1367 (a). In the case of Medina vs. California, 505 U.S. 437 (1992), No. 90–8370, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the California Supreme Court and held there is a presumption of competency and there is no violation of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution by requiring a defendant to prove by a preponderance of the evidence he is not competent to stand trial. In the stabbing case herein, it will now be up to the defense to present sufficient evidence to avoid a trial in the underlying criminal case.
An excellent resource for anyone who would like to know more about competency hearings and how a Superior Court in California evaluates the issue of competency to stand trial can be reviewed by clicking the following link that is a ‘bench guide’ for judges: http://www2.courtinfo.ca.gov/protem/pubs/bg63.pdf.
Once again, society is faced with having to deal with horrific crimes that might have been prevented had the accused received appropriate care and treatment. It seems more money is spent by our government to incarcerate criminals than to prevent crime through education as well as timely and appropriate intervention. Sadly, many insurance carriers and HMO’s place strict limits on the number of sessions one can have for the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.”