Competency and Faretta Self Representation
June 20th, 2020

In In re Sims (2018) 27 Cal.App.5th 195 the defendant, an attorney with a pre-existing history of mental illness, was convicted of murdering her husband.  Earlier in the proceedings, a doubt was declared about her competency, but the trial court found her competent and later allowed her to proceed in pro per.  During the trial, however, her behavior decompensated and her advisory counsel twice attempted to alert the court that he had a doubt that she was competent to proceed, but the judge “would not allow him to speak because he was advisory counsel only.”  The court of appeal reversed.  First, it held that it “would be error to refuse to allow advisory counsel to make a motion or declare a doubt, in order to make additional information about the defendant’s current mental competence available to the court.”  (At p. 209.)  Further, once “the court was confronted with objectively observable evidence of defendant’s bizarre legal defense, and heard her statements in open court…,” it was clear that “the manner in which [she] conducted her defense was not rational.”  Therefore, the trial court was required to appoint counsel and/or declare “a doubt as to defendant’s competence.”  (At pp. 209-210.)  In so holding, the appellate court emphasized that “[t]he standard of competence is not limited to whether defendant understands the nature and purpose of the proceedings; the court must also determine whether he or she can conduct his or her own defense in a rational manner.”  (At p. 211.)

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