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What is "mental competency" in a criminal case?

Mental competency is defined in California Penal Code 1367(a) which generally states that if the defendant because of a "mental disorder or developmental disability" is unable to understand the nature of the criminal procedings or assist his/her attorney in their defense in a rational manner, criminal charges will be suspended pending a return to competency.  There are proceedures and hearing rights also outlined in related sections of the Penal Code.

A defendant may be referred for a mental competency exam by a psychiatrist and a hearing on those findings per Penal Code 1368.  These mental competency hearings always occurrs at the Central Courthouse in San Diego.  Criminal proceedings are suspended pending that proceeedure.  If the defendant is found to be incompetent in San Diego County, they are then sent to Patton State Mental Hospital for treatment and return to Court once the psychiatrist at Patton find the defendant competent.  Many times, if a person is found incompetent, once treated and medicated over a period of time, they regain competency and are returned and criminal proccedings reinstated.

Mental health issues are not only relevant to competency but also can provide a defense or a mitigating factor to a crime.  Many cases where it is clear the defendant is competent still benefit from a defense Forensic Psychological Evaluation which can be valuable in negotiating a settlement in a criminal case.  These evaluations can assist in determining whether someone is a danger and address other issues involved in a case.  Contact Christoph Law Offices for a free consultation at 760-941-5720.  We practice exclusively Criminal Defense and have for over 32 years across from Vista Courts.