Mental Incompetency and its Impact on Criminal Trials in Florida

There are many different ways that you or a loved one can avoid a criminal conviction in a felony case. One way that this can occur is if the trial court concludes that the defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial. If a trial goes forward against an incompetent person, that person may be entitled to a reversal of his conviction. All of these things require a detailed understanding of criminal law, so if you have a loved one facing this type of circumstance, reach out without delay to a knowledgeable Florida criminal defense attorney.

A news-making case from Orlando became a trial that touched upon this issue of competency to stand trial. Antoine was scheduled to go on trial for murder in 2015 after he allegedly killed his girlfriend in the condo they shared shortly before Christmas 2011. The man allegedly slit the victim’s throat and stabbed her repeatedly. He admitted the killing. Antoine, though, had schizophrenia and asserted that he heard voices in his head. Prior to the start of the trial, Antoine’s lawyer submitted to the court a document known as a “notice of incompetency.” When that happens, the law requires the court to stop the progress of the underlying case and hold a hearing to determine whether or not the defendant is legally competent to stand trial.

The trial court ordered a competency hearing to assess Antoine. Before the hearing, two court-appointed experts analyzed the defendant and determined that Antoine was not competent. A few months later, mental health providers determined that Antoine’s competency had been restored. Another hearing was scheduled, and, at the hearing, Antoine’s attorney reported to the judge and the prosecutor that the newest court-appointed expert had deemed the defendant to be competent. Without reviewing the expert’s report and without taking any evidence, the court declared that Antoine was competent and that the case should go forward.

At the trial, Antoine admitted killing the victim but also raised an insanity defense. The jury convicted the defendant of second-degree murder.

Antoine appealed and achieved a degree of success through the appeal process. One key fact was that the experts originally found the defendant incompetent. Under Florida law, once a criminal defendant is assessed to be incompetent, “the state of incompetence” is presumed to continue “until a court, after proper notice and a hearing, finds otherwise.” An essential part of this is that the court – meaning the trial judge – must make an independent conclusion that the defendant was competent to stand trial.

The judge in Antoine’s case didn’t do that. This judge declared the defendant to be competent based solely on the stipulation of the lawyers and on an expert report that the judge had never read.

This meant that the case went back to Orange County Circuit Court for a determination of Antoine’s competency. If the judge subsequently determined that the man was not competent, or even that a proper analysis of his competence could not be conducted at that point, Antoine would be entitled to a new trial.

The law gives criminal defendants certain rights, including the right of an incompetent accused not to have to stand trial. If you or a loved one is facing charges of a violent crime, act without delay. Retain skilled counsel to protect the rights of your loved one. The experienced Tampa Bay criminal lawyers at Blake & Dorsten, P.A. have been providing their clients with criminal defense representation for many years. Call us at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.

More blog posts:

Manatee County Murder Suspect Gets a New Trial Because Police Interviewed Him Without His Lawyer Present, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2018

A simple bar fight becomes a manslaughter charge for local man, Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog, March 16, 2016

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