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Mental Competency to Stand Trial

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What Does it Mean to be Competent?

In order to stand trial, a defendant must be competent. A defendant is generally considered competent if he or she is able to understand and participate in the legal proceedings.

The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment prohibits the prosecution of an incompetent person. Therefore, if you are found incompetent, you may not be able to stand trial.

Note that being declared mentally incompetent is different than being declared insane. Insanity indicates that at the time the crime was committed, the defendant was not in his or her right mind and therefore cannot be held liable for criminal actions.

How is Competency Determined?

The judge has full discretion deciding whether or not the defendant is competent. Prior to making a final decision, the judge will determine whether the defendant should receive a psychiatric evaluation.

A number of factors will go into the judges determination of competency. These factors include an examination of whether the defendant can:

  • Understand and participate in the proceedings
  • Understand the seriousness of your situation and circumstances
  • Rationally consult with a lawyer and understand the charges
  • Help his or her lawyer in providing a defense
  • Distinguish between irrelevant and relevant factual information
  • Distinguish between pleading guilty and not guilty

The judge may also consider the defendant’s demeanor in court and whether a history of mental illness exists.

What Happens if the Judge Finds Me Incompetent to Stand Trial?

If the judge finds that you may be incompetent, a psychiatric evaluation will be ordered.  If the psychiatrist finds you incompetent, the judge will use that in making a final decision on whether or not you are competent to stand trial. If you are declared incompetent, you may be brought to trial at a later date when you have been found competent.

What Should I Do if I Think I am Incompetent to Stand Trial?

If you believe you are incompetent to stand trial please contact a defense lawyer immediately. Your lawyer will be able to determine if being declared incompetent would be an appropriate and effective approach for your legal case.

Photo of page author Jessica Tam

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 05-12-2016 10:18 PM PDT

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