Monday, October 16, 2006

Why Do the Prosecutors Here Want to Try Incompetent Kids?

The other day I was arguing a motion to have my client evaluated for competency to stand trial. Now, this is something new for me. Back in Texas, I never had to argue these motions. If I thought a client might be incompetent, I would fill out a pre-printed form with the court requesting an evaluation and the judge would sign it. The prosecutor wasn't even involved. We didn't have to swear to anything or argue over anything. The judge took your word that you had a serious question as to your client's competency and ordered the evaluation. If the shrink found the client incompetent, it was exceedingly rare for the prosecutor to challenge that. They know the case isn't going anywhere. The person just needs to be further treated and evaluated in the future before the criminal case can proceed. So, back to my case here. I filed my motion for a competency evaluation citing my client's various cognitive disabilities, his diagnosis of mental retardation, etc. I also state in my supporting affidavit that based on my attorney-client interactions with my client, I had serious doubts as to his ability to understand the nature of the proceedings and to assist in his own defense. I swore to this in writing. So, here we are arguing my motion. Not only does the prosecutor object to my motion to have my client evaluated, but she says that there is nothing in my affidavit to indicate that he cannot assist in his own defense. Okay, first of all, I'm not asking for a declaration of incompetency. I'm just asking for an evaluation to determine if he's incompetent. So, why is she fighting me on this? If he's competent, the doctor will say so. If he's not, the doctor will say so, and she will look stupid for fighting me in the first place. And what is with her saying there is nothing to indicate my client cannot assist in his own defense? How about my sworn statement that I had doubts that he could based on my interactions with him. Is my sworn testimony "nothing?" It reminded me of clients who don't understand how they can be convicted when "they aint got no evidence against me." I have to remind them that the testimony of the alleged victim is, in fact, evidence. You know, I could almost understand the prosecutor arguing that my assertion alone that I had doubts as to my client's competency was not enough. I say "almost understand" because the case law is pretty clear that great deference is to be given to the defense attorney on these issues. But seriously, saying that my sworn statement saying that I didn't think my client understood the process or could assist in his defense was "nothing" is just ludicrous. And also really annoying.


Blogger Ruth said...

Perhaps it's a trend. I had a prosecutor a couple of weeks ago argue with a court-appointed (and therefore impartial) expert who said my client was incompetent. The ADA didn't present any evidence or testimony, and she didn't even request the judge grant a second eval. She just argued that the doctor didn't understand the standard for determining competency! She also asserted out of the blue that there is no evidence that the guy couldn't assist counsel. (I suppose besides the fact that he was delusional to the point he didn't know who his counsel was.) He thought I was working for the CIA, for crying out loud! And he told the evaluator so.

10/16/2006 6:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Tex;
In New York, the request is also pretty automatic although it's par for the course if that if the evaluator concludes that the defendant is not competant, the prosecutor sends their own doctor. Don't take it personally. One thing that always amazes me is how much criminal law varies from state to state...Have writers block and maybe will write on this! You are always good for sparking my creative juices...

10/23/2006 3:10 PM  

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