Los Angeles Incompetency Proceedings Attorneys
When is a Competency Hearing Required?
Criminal defendants in the United States have the right to adequately defend themselves in court. And while this right is guaranteed under in Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, not everyone has the mental capacity to defend their best interests before a judge and jury. In the state of California, judges can order courts to hold incompetency proceedings for criminal defendants if they have reasonable doubt about the defendant's competence to stand trial.
When a judge declares that a defendant’s mental competency needs to be determined to ensure their rights are upheld, the defendant will have the opportunity to have their legal counsel give an opinion on whether or not the defendant has a reasonable level of understanding and possesses the ability to participate in their defense.
Can I Request a Competency Hearing?
If a judge doesn’t question a defendant’s mental competence, an attorney can still address the issue by declaring their own doubt regarding the defendant’s ability to understand the charges they’re facing or participate in their own defense. The attorney must first prove that a defendant is mentally incompetent and produce substantial and convincing evidence showing mental disability at the time of the incident.
What Happens at a Competency Hearing?
A competency hearing will occur in court before a judge. A court-appointed psychiatrist, licensed psychologist, or developmental disability expert will examine the defendant and provide their professional opinion on whether that individual is able to stand trial.
Some of the evidence that is examined to determine competency can include:
- Medical reports
- Psychological evaluations
- Witness and defendant's statements
It is important to note that a competency hearing is a civil proceeding, not a criminal trial. So the attorney representing you is not held to the legal standard of having to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are incompetent. Instead, the attorney’s goal is to show there is more evidence pointing towards your inability to fully understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or to provide rational assistance with building your defense strategy.
What Happens After the Hearing
If a court finds you are incompetent, then the trial will be suspended, and the court can order one of the following actions:
- Commitment to a secure state mental hospital or treatment facility (which can include jail)
- Commitment to receive treatment on an outpatient basis
Our dedicated lawyers at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP are here to assist if you or a loved one is mentally unfit to stand trial. We are known for coming up with creative legal solutions for the clients we serve, and we are prepared to use our extensive resources to defend your rights.