Judge’s Duty to Hold Competency Hearing
June 30th, 2020

Habeas relief granted, vacating defendant’s NGI commitment because the trial court failed to hold a competency hearing at the time of his trial.  Defendant had initially been found incompetent but was restored to competency after being housed in the state hospital before trial, based on a report describing his condition as “marginal”, while acknowledging that “‘he is not able to fully understand all of the ramifications of his case….”  (Original emphasis.)  However, the subsequent reports by the doctors appointed to evaluate his sanity expressed concerns over his competency to stand trial.  Specifically, one doctor articulated “‘questions regarding the defendant’s ability to provide meaningful information and to rationally cooperate with others.’”  (Original emphasis.)  His subsequent report observed that defendant’s thinking and responses were “‘bizarre’”, including descriptions of his home being “‘in another galaxy named “Zexxe.”’”  The combination of the report describing defendant as only marginally competent, the subsequent report questioning his competence, and the supplemental report describing his delusions “triggered the trial court’s obligation to hold another competency hearing.”  (At p. 507.)  The failure to do so constituted reversible error.  Further, a retrospective competency hearing was not feasible given that 22 years had passed since defendant’s trial.

 

Similarly, a mayhem conviction reversed People v. Johnson (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 267 because trial court failed to conduct a competency hearing in the face of substantial evidence that defendant was not competent.  Where “substantial evidence does suggest the defendant might be incompetent, due process dictates a full exploration of the defendant’s mental health to determine if, in fact, he or she is competent to stand trial.”  (At p. 280; original emphasis.)  Thus, it was error for the trial judge to refuse to conduct a competency hearing based on “the judge’s personal observations” or the prosecution’s “substantial” evidence that defendant was competent and was being disruptive only “to manipulate the system and delay his trial.”  The trial court was required to hold a competency hearing after defendant “engaged in multiple acts of self-mutilation, shouted to voices in his head, could not be quieted during court proceedings, defecated in his pants, was placed in a medical unit at the prison where he was given medication and was put on a suicide watch, and his lawyer expressed doubt throughout the trial about his mental competence to understand the proceedings and to assist in his defense.”  (At p. 271.)


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