Feb 29, 2016

Legal Competency: Houston Lawyer

In this first segment of a three-part series of videos discussing Mental Competency and the Insanity Defense, criminal defense attorney George Parnham discusses legal competency as applied to a criminal defense strategy.

There is an important distinction in the difference between competency and criminal responsibility:
  • The issue of competency is determined by evaluating whether a defendant is able to adequately assist his attorney in preparing a defense, make informed decisions about trial strategy and determining whether or not defendant has a rational, as well as factual understanding of the process.
  • Insanity (or lack of criminal responsibility) refers to whether a defendant can be held legally responsible for his or her criminal behavior.
Competency largely deals with the defendant's present condition, while insanity addresses the mental condition at the time the crime was committed.
Insanity is a legal concept, not a psychiatric concept. Having a diagnosed mental disorder is not sufficient reason, from the court's point of view, to relieve a defendant from all responsibility for illegal acts they may commit: the mental disorder must be of such a degree as to render the individual incapable of knowing that his/her conduct was wrong.

For more information on Mental Incapacity and Insanity Criminal Defense please visit insanitydefenseattorney.com 

The Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 46B states that a person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have:
  1. sufficient present ability to consult with the person's lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or 
  2.  a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against the person. Further, article 46B.003 states that a defendant is presumed competent to stand trial and shall be found competent to stand trial unless proved incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence.
Further, the statute states that "A defendant is presumed competent to stand trial and shall be found competent to stand trial unless proved incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence."

There is an elaborate procedural process established for determining whether the accused is competent, and ,if so, for restoring the accused to competency through medical effort and returning him to court to stand trial. There are three stages in the pretrial competency determination procedure:

  • Stage One - the trial court must be made cognizant that there is a doubt as to the defendant's competency; the court has the right to require examination of the defendant and may appoint disinterested experts to examine the defendant; the court gets the reports; 
  • Stage Two - the trial court conducts a hearing to decide if if any evidence exists that might rationally lead to a conclusion that the defendant is incompetent; if evidence of incompetency is produced, the trial judge is required to empanel a jury (not the trial jury) to determine the defendant's competency; 
  • Stage Three -the jury (not the trial jury) decides whether the defendant is competent to stand trial by answering two special issues, i.e., whether the defendant is competent to stand trial and, if not, whether there is no substantial probability that the defendant will attain competency to stand trial within the foreseeable future.
Based on the jury's findings regarding incompetency and the probability of restoration, the court will either commit the defendant for restorative care for a period not to exceed 18 months or, if competency cannot be restored, proceed with civil commitment proceedings.
Sometimes competency to stand trial cannot be restored. If the defendant is found competent , the trial proceeds. If the defendant is found incompetent after trial has begun, the trial court declares a mistrial; jeopardy doesn't prevent retrial if competency is later restored. Incompetency to stand trial is not a defense to criminal responsibility.

Art. 46.05 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure provides that a person who is incompetent to be executed may not be executed. This statute is in response to Ford v. Wainright, and provides that the condemned person may raise the issue of competency to be executed by a motion with attached affidavits, records, or other evidence. Paragraph (e) indicates that if the condemned has previously filed similar motions and has been found to be competent to be executed, there is a rebuttable presumption of competency. If the trial court determines that the condemned has not made a substantial showing of incompetency in the motion, the trial court will deny it.

Art. 46.05 defines incompetency to be executed as the defendant being unable to understand that he or she is to be executed, that the execution is imminent, and the reason why he or she is being executed.  The condemned has the burden of proving incompetence to be executed by a preponderance of the evidence.
If the trial court determines that the condemned has made a substantial showing of incompetency, they must then order at least two mental health experts to examine the condemned to determine if they are, indeed, incompetent. These experts then report back to the court, the prosecution and the defense attorney. If a stay of execution is issued by the court of criminal appeals, the trial court periodically shall order that the condemned be reexamined to determine if the condemned is no longer incompetent to be executed.

Mr. Parnham's insistence that juries and legislators consider context and mental capacity will help move focus from verdict to treatment and catalyze a societal shift from outraged condemnation to awareness and primary prevention. He is totally committed to ensuring that his clients are heard and, to whatever extent possible, understood. In instances where misrepresentation or misstatement about the factual circumstances of an accusation have been leaked to the public, whether intentionally or not, it is imperative to "set the record straight" and do whatever can be done to level the playing field of public opinion.

Criminal defense strategies applied in these situations need to be created for the particular offense, evidence involved and based upon the defendant's needs. Contact Parnham & Associates today at (713) 224.3967 or use our convenient online submission form. We will work tirelessly to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

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