Court Reverses Conviction in Florida Case Due to Failure to Hold Competency Hearing

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.

Right to a Competency Hearing

On appeal, the court found the trial court’s failure to conduct a competency hearing constituted a fundamental error. The court stated that typically the remedy for a failure to conduct a competency hearing is a new trial if the defendant is found to be competent on remand. The court noted, however, that a new trial is not necessary when a defendant’s competency can be determined retroactively. A retroactive determination may be possible when there are sufficient expert and lay witnesses who can testify as to the defendant’s competency at a hearing. Here, the court noted there were several witnesses who could offer evidence as to the defendant’s competency. As such, the court reversed the defendant’s conviction and remanded the case for a competency hearing.

The court then addressed the defendant’s argument that he was entitled to a jury instruction that as he was previously deemed insane and as his sanity had not been judicially restored, he was entitled to a presumption of insanity at the time of his alleged crime. The court found that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that the defendant had previously been adjudged insane, but failing to instruct the jury that the defendant had not been judicially restored to legal sanity, and was entitled to a presumption of insanity. The court found this error was harmless, however, due to the fact that the defendant was permitted to offer evidence during the trial that his sanity had not been restored.

Consult a Skilled Sarasota Criminal Defense Attorney Regarding your Case

If you live in Sarasota and are charged with a criminal offense, it is in your best interest to consult a skilled Sarasota criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a Sarasota criminal defense attorney with the knowledge and experience needed to help you in your pursuit of a favorable outcome. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted at 727-897-5413 or via the online form to schedule a confidential and free consultation.

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