Mental Competency, Plea Bargains, and Your Florida Criminal Case

CourtroomIn a criminal case, there are many technical and procedural rules that can affect your case. Sometimes, those rules may serve as an impediment to your case, but, at other times, those rules (and the proper utilization of them by your Florida drug crime attorney) can be massively beneficial to your case. For one man facing drug charges in DeSoto County, the rules related to determinations of mental competence and plea bargains gave the defendant a renewed opportunity in his criminal case to escape from the plea deal he’d previously made.

The defendant, George, was arrested in December 2013 and charged with multiple crimes related to drugs and to resisting police officers. Eighteen months later, George was determined to be not competent to proceed. Some time later, two doctors determined that the defendant was competent. The court set a trial date, and, on the day of trial, the defendant agreed to a plea deal. He pled guilty to four charges and received a sentence of 36 months plus 24 months’ community control.

The defendant later sought to invalidate his plea agreement. The defendant noted to the court that, although two doctors had found him to be competent, there had never been a court order entered in which the judge declared him to be legally competent, so his plea deal was involuntary. The trial judge rejected these arguments and declined to void the plea agreement.

The appeals court reversed and sent the case back to the trial court to give the defendant the option to withdraw his plea deal. There is a very specific process that must be followed in relation to competency determinations, and the trial court didn’t follow it here, according to the appeals court. Once a defendant is adjudged to be incompetent, he remains incompetent until a court deems him competent. The simple fact that two doctors concluded that George was competent was not enough to make him legally competent. Those doctors’ opinions merely amounted to notice that the defendant had regained competence. After a defendant regains competence, the trial court is still legally obligated to hold a hearing, and the judge must determine if the defendant has the required degree of competence needed to proceed in his defense. The medical opinions are only advisory.

Even if a case involves a situation in which all of the experts agree that the defendant has regained competence, and both the defense and the prosecution lawyers stipulate to the defendant’s competence, the judge must still make an “independent determination regarding a defendant’s competency to stand trial.”

In George’s case, no judge ever made that required “independent determination” of George’s competence to stand trial prior to George accepting the plea agreement. Without that determination, George could not be bound by the terms of the plea deal. As the appeals court pointed out, though, George could still face prosecution on all of the original charges if he chose to withdraw his plea agreement.

Whether you prefer to strike a plea deal with prosecutors or to go forward and have your “day in court,” it helps to have strong legal representation protecting your rights. The diligent Tampa Bay drug crime attorneys at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. have been providing the accused with reliable representation for many years. Our experienced attorneys are ready to discuss your case with you.

Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation and get the answers and the reliable assistance you need.

More blog posts:

Statutory Requirements and Criminal Sentencing Enhancements in Florida, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, May 30, 2017

Proximity Doesn’t Equal Control, Florida Appeals Court Says in Drug Conviction Reversal, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, Feb. 14, 2017

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