Commentary by San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Sam Spital:
“On Friday, January 11, 2013, the NBC Channel 4 online news described a sexual assault and non-life threatening stabbing at approximately 11:00 p.m. Thursday night at the Nordstrom Rack in the Los Angeles Promenade Mall where more than a dozen individuals were taken hostage. At the time the article was published, the Swat and members of the homicide and robbery division of the LAPD were still searching for at least two possibly armed assailants in the neighboring community of Culver City.
What no doubt began as an opportunity to be out shopping on a Thursday night has left far too many patrons and shoppers scared, feeling troubled and unsafe at a popular Mall in the greater Los Angeles area. The reporter did not reveal any other details in the story such as the number of similar crimes in the same location, other violent crimes in the greater Los Angeles community as well as crime trends during the past 12 months. It appears no security officers, Nordstrom employees or Mall management were interviewed as well. It is fair to say there are a growing number of violent crimes and the public must be vigilant of their surroundings no matter where they are.”
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.”
COMMENTARY BY SAN DIEGO CRIMINAL ATTORNEY SAM SPITAL:
“It is a sad commentary in today’s society that so many individuals’ lives will be adversely impacted by a 15 year old boy who otherwise could have used his youth as an opportunity to grow to be a productive adult and realize the happiness found in achieving goals and paying forward. Instead, the UT San Diego News posted an article on November 21, 2012 about this teenager who was charged as an adult for Assault with a Deadly Weapon and Murder with Gang allegations in connection with the stabbing death of a competing gang member in a local park in Vista. The boy faces 30 years to life for the killing.
The reporter did not include any family history, explanation, and/or mitigation regarding the offender; and of course, the reader is left with a question whether any possible exculpatory evidence might exist to explain, much less to demonstrate justification for the brutal attack. The defense counsel will likely perform a thorough investigation with family, friends and potential witnesses to better evaluate the facts of the incident as well as to determine whether the defendant has any remorse that can be presented at the penalty phase of the court case.”
“Any time a 10 or 11 year old child is charged with murder, it is not only unspeakable for the victim’s family but the family of the accused also suffers emotional harm. It has been reported the child in this case had a mental illness, the Juvenile Court Judge found him mentally incompetent and, therefore, he could not stand trial until declared otherwise. This is a procedure in both juvenile and adult court.
Clearly, an accused must understand the charges brought against him and be able to assist his attorney who must ascertain sufficient facts to evaluate the options for presenting a defense Sometimes it is not whether an individual committed a crime, but whether he could formulate the required intent to be held guilty. In addition, if an individual is deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial, an effective and proper representation by legal counsel would not be possible, thereby denying the accused of due process of law. There may be a challenge for the Court in this case as a result of the defense lawyer stating the child is “remorseful,” since that would evince some type of understanding of the wrongful nature of his acts after the event(s) in question. Given a conundrum such as it seems, the Court has to exercise its sound discretion and have the child evaluated by a mental health professional to determine whether he is currently fit to stand trial.”
Sam Spital, Criminal Defense Lawyer