Competence to Stand Trial Determination Should Be Closely Reviewed; Stale Evaluations Insufficient Basis for Findings of Competence; Ruling Not Disturbed

Article excerpt

The Ninth Circuit ordered a rehearing on a California trial judge's ruling that a defendant was competent to stand trial (CST). Although considerable deference is typically given to a trial judge's factual determinations, the Ninth Circuit held that CST determinations should be reviewed more closely because a defendant who is incompetent to stand trial is also incompetent to develop an adequate factual record on this issue or to assist his or her attorney in doing so. The Ninth Circuit added that a trial judge has a continuing, affirmative responsibility to ensure that a defendant is not tried while incompetent and the judge should not conclude that a defendant is CST merely because the attorney representing the defendant did not pursue the matter.

The Ninth Circuit cited six aspects of the proceedings that caused it to question whether this defendant was CST. First, in the interval between the competency hearing and the trial, the defendant was found on numerous occasions during hospitalization proceedings to be gravely disabled or a danger to self or others as a result of mental disorder. …