According to a recent report by the LA Times, California is experiencing a backlog of mentally ill and developmentally disabled defendants who have been ruled incompetent to stand trial.
The problem is reportedly directly related to a lack of funding and resources to appropriately treat the mentally ill. There are simply not enough beds to house the hundreds of defendants declared mentally incompetent.1 As a result, many mentally ill and developmentally disabled individuals are siphoned into California prisons and jails, where they may be a danger to themselves and others.
At least one psychiatrist argues that imprisoning the mentally ill only worsens their symptoms; not only because of the environment, but also because sick individuals are not receiving needed medication.2 As a result, some mentally ill are spending more time in jail/prison and in mental hospitals than they would have if they were convicted of the crimes they were accused of. Many experts are now concerned about whether mentally ill defendants are being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.3
Some argue that Proposition 47 will ease some of the overcrowding issues. Prop 47 is a legislative effort to reduce prison population by reducing non-violent crimes to misdemeanors so that offenders may qualify for a drug or mental health program. However, since its implementation, Prop 47 has had little effect on those declared mentally incompetent. Only 17 offenders have been released under Prop 47.4
California’s failure to effectively deal with those declared mentally incompetent is not only inhumane but it’s a circular problem as it only adds to prison overpopulation. As long as mentally ill patients are denied treatment while housed in prison, they cannot get better and recidivism rates will only increase.
Some are proposing treatment programs in prison as a short-term solution. However, this proposal does not address:
- The ill effect that the prison environment will have on the mentally ill
- The overcrowding issue
- Excessive punishment, and
- The fact that funding is now spent both to house a prisoner and to treat them, when the funding could be better spent to address the root of the problem.
Declaration of Mental Incompetence to Stand Trial in California (PC 1368)
You will be deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial if:
- You are unable to understand the nature of the charges against you, or
- You are unable to assist your lawyer rationally preparing a defense.5
If you’re declared incompetent, California law requires your criminal case to be suspended and you be brought to a state hospital for treatment until you are deemed to be competent to assist in your defense.6
Unable to Understand the Charges Against You
As a practical matter, you may be declared legally incompetent if you suffer from a mental disorder or developmental disability that affects your understanding of the charges against you.7 A state psychiatrist will evaluate you to determine if you are incompetent. You will have to show you have a rational and factual understanding of the charges at a competency hearing.8
You may legally have a developmental disability if you suffer from mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, or autism if its onset occurred before your 18th birthday.
Unable to Assist Your Lawyer in Bringing a Defense
If you suffer from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you may experience delusions while off medication. Those delusions can get in the way of your attorney effectively defending your constitutional rights. For example, you may have an unfounded deep mistrust for your lawyer, or you may confuse your lawyer’s role for the prosecution’s, thus making it impossible for your lawyer to effectively represent you.
How a Declaration of Incompetence Can Affect Your Case
Under the Due Process Clause, you have the constitutional right not to be forced to stand trial while legally incompetent. Upon appeal, if the court finds that you were in fact incompetent to stand trial, then your conviction must be reversed.9 Moreover, you cannot face the death penalty if you are declared incompetent.10 Thus, you have the right to appeal your competency retroactively.
Many often confuse mental competency with the insanity defense. The difference is that competency relates to your understanding of the charges at time of trial; whereas insanity related to your inability to:
- Understand your actions when you committed a crime; and
- The criminal nature of your actions
If you are declared incompetent, depending on the nature of your charges, you could be held in prison for much longer than your jail sentence would be.
Call the Skilled Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich
If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime and you believe that they suffer from a mental illness or developmental disability, you need to contact an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney immediately.
At Wallin & Klarich, our skilled attorneys have been successfully defending clients facing criminal charges for over 30 years. We will meet with you immediately to review the facts of your case, and plan a defense strategy that will help you get the very best outcome possible.
With offices located in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Orange County, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.
Call us today at (888) 280-6839 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.
5. [Pen. Code, § 1367(a)]↩
6. [Pen. Code, § 1370]↩
7. [Pen. Code, § 1367(b)]↩
8. [People v. Ramos, (2004) 34 Cal.4th 494, 507]↩
9. [People v. Ary, (2011) 51 Cal.4th 510]↩
10. [Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S. Ct. 2242]↩