Competency and Federal Criminal Appeals

A three-judge appeal court recently upheld the dismissal of charges that a man faced after threatening an FBI agent who declared the man mentally incompetent to stand trial. The man was later released from federal custody after spending 22 months in prison. The appeal was an effort to have the incompetency ruling overturned to force prosecutors to take the man to trial. The man planned to call 50 to 75 witnesses at the trial to establish that the FBI had turned against him. The man argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish that he was mentally incompetent. During the criminal case, the man had fired several lawyers, attempted to represent himself, and sent numerous letters to various public officials. The man’s court-appointed attorney declined to comment about the ruling.

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees every person the right to a fair trial. One of the elements of a fair trial is that a person is able to adequately defend him or herself in a court of law, which involves that person understanding both the nature of the proceedings and being able to assist legal counsel in preparation of the case. If competency is an issue in your appeal, it is a wise idea to obtain the assistance of a skilled criminal defense attorney.

How a Person is Declared Incompetent

An incompetency hearing can be recommended by either a criminal defense attorney, the prosecution, or a judge that hears the case. During a competency hearing, a court will appoint a psychiatrist or licensed psychologist to perform an examination. In situations in which a person’s disability involves developmental or learning issues, a court will likely appoint a developmental disability expert to perform this assessment. A competency hearing is a civil proceeding during which a person and his or her attorney must establish that the person is not competent to stand trial by a preponderance of the evidence. Because incompetency hearings are complicated and often have serious consequences, it is a wise idea that a person in this situation makes sure to obtain the assistance of a strong criminal defense lawyer.

The Results of a Competency Hearing

If a competency hearing concludes that a person is competent, the criminal trial will proceed as planned. If new evidence concerning a person’s competency comes into question, another competency hearing might occur.

If a competency hearing concludes that a person is incompetent, the trial will be suspended and the court will commit the individual to one of several locations including a mental hospital or treatment facility. The place to which a person is committed depends on the crime with which the person is charged.

Contact a Skilled Criminal Defense Lawyer

If you are impacted by a medical illness and trying to appeal a criminal conviction on the basis of mental incompetence, it is critical that you contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer immediately. At the Federal Criminal Law Center, our legal counsel has significant experience helping clients navigate appeals involving incompetency. Contact our law office today for assistance and a free case evaluation.