Articles Posted in Competency

In Florida, as in all states, defendants need to be competent in order to stand trial. If a defendant is not sufficiently competent enough to meaningfully participate in their own defense, then they are not constitutionally allowed to stand trial. In a case that was recently heard by the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida, a defendant argued that his conviction should be overturned because the court did not make a competency determination before trial.

Competency Hearings

A defendant’s qualified Clearwater sex crimes defense attorney can make a motion for a competency evaluation under Florida Rule 3.210. In this motion, the defense attorney explains the reasons behind asking for an evaluation, including expert reports, statements by family members, and any attorney observations. However, all parties, including the judge and prosecutor, have a responsibility to inquire into the defendant’s competence if they have reason to suspect that the defendant might not be fully competent.

Once a competency hearing is ordered, the court will appoint experts to interview and examine the defendant. The experts will then offer opinions of the defendant’s competency. If the defendant is not found to be competent to stand trial at that time, they are then moved to a locked facility. These facilities are specialized to help defendants regain competency so they are able to stand trial. Once the defendant’s competency is restored then the trial can proceed.

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“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney…” You have probably heard this recitation on legal procedural TV shows dozens (or hundreds) of times. This is called the “Miranda” warning. The purpose is to give potential criminal defendants an understanding of their rights. It was named after the Supreme Court case that mandated that law enforcement give this announcement before questioning defendants.

Florida Miranda Requirements

Florida law requires that police give the Miranda warning when a defendant is arrested or taken into custody. It is such an important requirement, in fact, that any information admitted by the defendant before the Miranda warning is given may not be admissible in court. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule.

Initially, Miranda warnings only need to be given to potential defendants after someone is taken into custody. So if the police stop you on the street and ask you questions – and you are free to leave at any time – they do not need to give you the warning. However, if you are arrested and brought into the station, then your Miranda rights need to be given to you before you are interrogated. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily apply to statements that you make voluntarily and without being asked.

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Under the laws of the United States, defendants have a right to act as their own counsel if they so choose. However, the state still has a responsibility to make sure that the defendant is competent enough to make these choices. In a case heard by the Florida First District Court of Appeal, a defendant who refused to cooperate with his counsel and then represented himself appealed his conviction for sex crimes. If you or a loved one is charged with a sex crime, you should contact a skilled Clearwater sex crime attorney as soon as possible.Facts of the Case

The defendant in this case was charged with three counts of sexual battery. The prosecutors provided DNA evidence that corroborated the testimony of the victim. He decided to represent himself during most of the proceedings. However, the judge did appoint his public defender to be his standby counsel during the proceedings. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. On appeal, he alleged that the trial court’s verdict should be overturned. The defendant argued that the court should have performed a competency hearing to make sure that he was competent to waive his right to counsel. He also argued that the standby counsel was ineffective.

Competency

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently took up the case of a Florida man convicted of acting as a pimp for a minor girl. The court’s decision is a good example of the serious consequences that can come with being charged with sex trafficking and the significant leeway that judges have in deciding whether a Florida criminal defendant is competent to stand trial.

Defendant was convicted of two federal crimes—sex trafficking of a minor child and inducing a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction—for taking advantage of a 16-year-old girl who had ran away from home. He took sexually suggestive photos of the girl, according to the court, and uploaded them to an internet site for prostitution. The girl said Defendant made her have sex with four or five men per day and then give the money she earned to him. He also allegedly plied the girl with crack cocaine.

A presentencing report indicated that Defendant had been receiving Social Security Disability benefits since he was five years old because of “learning disabilities.” He told the court he could not read, write, or spell, and suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. Defendant’s attorney also submitted an evaluation showing that Defendant had a very low IQ—equal to or better than only 0.1 percent of his peers—and that he suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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Florida criminal cases involving a defendant with mental and emotional conditions can raise a number of complicated legal issues. The state’s First District Court of Appeal made clear in a recent sex crime case that there are certain circumstances in which a judge is required to hold a hearing to determine whether a person is competent to stand trial and to issue a written decision on that question before proceeding to trial.Defendant was charged with sexual battery of a person under twelve years of age and lewd or lascivious molestation of a person under twelve years of age, stemming from an undisclosed incident. Before trial on those charges, Defendant’s lawyer asked the judge to first determine whether Defendant was sufficiently competent to stand trial.

One court-appointed expert concluded that Defendant wasn’t able to adequately understand the charges against him, but a second court-appointed expert said Defendant was competent to participate in the case. After a competency hearing, the trial court found that Defendant was sufficiently competent to proceed to trial. The judge made that decision orally, but didn’t issue a written ruling on the competency issue.

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A person charged with a sex crime in Florida has a few options when it comes to entering a plea in court. In addition to pleading “guilty” or “not guilty,” the person can also plead “no contest.” This option means the person is not saying that he or she is guilty, only that he or she won’t contest the charges. As a recent case out of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal shows, it is important to be fully aware of the potential penalties you’re facing before you enter a plea.

Defendant was charged with various counts of lewd and lascivious molestation of a victim under 16 years of age, lewd and lascivious exhibition to a victim under 16 years of age, battery, possession of child pornography, and use of a computer server to seduce, solicit, or entice a child. He eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 40 years behind bars. Defendant later appealed the convictions, arguing that he wouldn’t have pleaded no contest if the trial judge had adequately explained to him that he was facing as much as 101 years in prison on the charges.

Although the judge may have told Defendant about the maximum penalty for each of the offenses, he said he wasn’t aware that those penalties could be imposed consecutively (back-to-back) rather than concurrently (at the same time). The trial judge sided with state prosecutors, who argued that the judge met his responsibility by simply informing Defendant of the maximum penalties per offense. The judge rejected Defendant’s request to withdraw his plea.

Florida sex crime cases often raise questions about the mental health of the person charged with a crime. That’s why judges in many of these cases will hold a hearing to determine whether a defendant has the competence to understand the charges against him, consult with counsel, and participate in the trial. If not, the person may be sent to a facility to receive mental health treatment and later re-evaluated. In a recent decision, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal explained that judges are free to base competency determinations largely on the input of mental health experts.A defendant was charged with various crimes stemming from an incident in which he allegedly filmed and took photos of young girls while they were sleeping. “Questions quickly arose concerning his competency to proceed” at trial, the court said. The trial judge ordered a competency hearing and appointed two mental health experts to evaluate him. Both experts eventually concluded that he was sufficiently competent to stand trial.

The experts’ reports were admitted into evidence during the competency hearing, but no witnesses were called. Although the judge ordered the defendant’s lawyer to prepare a draft order finding the defendant competent to stand trial, the Second District said any such order wasn’t included in the record brought to the appeals court. The defendant eventually pleaded guilty. He was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison, followed by 15 years of probation.

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