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Competency to Stand Trial in California

Penal Code 1368 PC – Mental Competency for Trial in California

When a defendant in a criminal case is having mental issues such to the level that they can no longer cooperate with their attorney and they're in a mental state where they really can't comprehend what's going on related to their criminal case, it's up to their criminal defense attorney to declare a doubt as to their competency pursuant to Penal Code Section 1368.

To give readers a better understanding of someone's mental competency to stand trial, our California criminal defense attorneys are providing an overview below.

Criminal Proceedings are Suspended for Mental Evaluation

Once that is done, the judge will typically suspend criminal proceedings, send the person — at least in Los Angeles county — to a mental health department in downtown Los Angeles. Next, an expert will evaluate that person to see what the diagnosis is as far as their mental issues.

Ultimately, they will determine whether or not at some point that person can become competent and be able to face their charges, either work out a resolution by way of a plea bargain through their attorney or go to trial and fight their case.

Competency to Stand Trial in California - Penal Code 1368

Before they can do any of that, they've got to be able to understand what's going on with their case, what they're charged with, be able to assist their attorney in their defense.

This is obviously one of the rights a person has through the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States to be able to defend themselves and to be able to understand what's going on with their criminal case.

This starts to get very tricky when a person commits a crime and maybe that person has a mental defense related to their crime.

Maybe they weren't sane at the time they committed the crime, or maybe they have a mental illness that prevents them from being able to understand right from wrong and to be able to commit certain crimes.

It's universally accepted that in order to commit a criminal offense in Los Angeles or anywhere in the United States, the person has to know right from wrong — obviously has to realize what they're doing is not lawful. See CALCRIM 3451 – Present Mental Competence of Defendant.

If they don't, then the defense attorney can make the argument that they were insane at the time they committed the offense.  If this is successful, they're typically going to be not guilty by reason of insanity.  At that point, they'll usually be sent to a location like Patton Hospital where they'll be held until they're determined to be sane and safe to be able to be released into society.

Insanity Defense in Criminal Cases

So, this whole concept of declaring a doubt is probably one of the first steps towards a person realizing they have a mental illness and then it's going to be up to society, combined with them, to try to figure out how to help that person with their mental illness.

Not all mental illnesses will result in a defense to a particular crime, but they certainly can make the criminal proceedings take a lot longer.  Sometimes it can take many months for a person to regain their mental competency.

Sometimes the mental competency is lost — the trigger is alcohol or drugs.  Sometimes it's simply that the person is mentally ill, is off their medication or maybe they're undiagnosed and they end up getting diagnosed while the criminal proceedings are going on.

Obviously, the authorities also know that sometimes people will fake a mental illness in order to avoid facing their criminal charges or to gain some other advantage in a criminal case.

That's why the court system relies on experts and their common sense to determine how they're going to deal with a mental issue, and it's certainly been a longtime coming that a lot of these mental issues are being dealt with by the criminal system.

Instead of just sending the person to prison, there's now a number of different programs that can be utilized under the right circumstances in order to help the person instead of punishing the person.

Hedding Law Firm is a criminal defense law firm located in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County at 16000 Ventura Blvd #1208 Encino, CA 91436. We are also located at 633 West Fifth Street Los Angeles, CA 90071. Contact us for a free case evaluation at (213) 542-0979.