Articles Posted in Competency

One of the tenets of Florida criminal law is that a defendant must be competent to stand trial. If a defendant’s competency is in question, a hearing must be held to determine whether the defendant is fit to stand trial for criminal charges.

When a court fails to adequately assess whether a defendant is competent prior to trying the defendant, it can result in a reversal of a conviction, as shown in a recent Florida appellate court case. If you live in Sarasota and are facing criminal charges, it is prudent to consult a seasoned Sarasota criminal defense attorney to formulate a defense.

The Defendant’s Prior Charges and Competency Determinations

It is reported that the defendant was charged with aggravated battery in 1987 and aggravated assault in 1988. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in both cases, after which he was committed to the Department of Children and Families and placed in a State hospital. He was released in 1995 but violated the terms of his release and was returned to the hospital. He subsequently assaulted members of the hospital staff and was placed in a Florida commitment center. In 2015, he attacked an employee of the commitment center. He was then charged with and convicted of battery.  The defendant appealed his conviction on the grounds that the court never conducted a competency hearing or advised the jury that he had previously been deemed incompetent.

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In Florida, as in all states, defendants need to be competent in order to stand trial. If a defendant is not sufficiently competent enough to meaningfully participate in their own defense, then they are not constitutionally allowed to stand trial. In a case that was recently heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida, a defendant argued that his conviction should be overturned because the court did not make a competency determination before trial.

Competency Hearings

A defendant’s qualified Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney can make a motion for a competency evaluation under Florida Rule 3.210. In this motion, the defense attorney explains the reasons behind asking for an evaluation, including expert reports, statements by family members, and any attorney observations. However, all parties, including the judge and prosecutor, have a responsibility to inquire into the defendant’s competence if they have reason to suspect that the defendant might not be fully competent.

Once a competency hearing is ordered, the court will appoint experts to interview and examine the defendant. The experts will then offer opinions of the defendant’s competency. If the defendant is not found to be competent to stand trial at that time, they are then moved to a locked facility. These facilities are specialized to help defendants regain competency so they are able to stand trial. Once the defendant’s competency is restored then the trial can proceed.

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“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…” You have probably heard this recitation on legal procedural TV shows dozens (or hundreds) of times. This is called the “Miranda” warning. The purpose is to give potential criminal defendants an understanding of their rights. It was named after the Supreme Court case that mandated that law enforcement give this announcement before questioning defendants.

Florida Miranda Requirements

Florida law requires that police give the Miranda warning when a defendant is arrested or taken into custody. It is such an important requirement, in fact, that any information admitted by the defendant before the Miranda warning is given may not be admissible in court. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule.

Initially, Miranda warnings only need to be given to potential defendants after someone is taken into custody. So if the police stop you on the street and ask you questions – and you are free to leave at any time – they do not need to give you the warning. However, if you are arrested and brought into the station, then your Miranda rights need to be given to you before you are interrogated. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily apply to statements that you make voluntarily and without being asked.

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