Florida Appeals Court Remands Sexual Battery Case for Competency Determination

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.

The Case At Issue

Here, the defendant was charged with 87 counts of sexual battery by a person with familial or custodial authority on a victim between age 12-18. The defense filed a motion for a competency evaluation before the trial began. The court appointed an expert who filed a report that found the defendant competent to proceed. However, the court never scheduled a hearing on the motion and no one addressed the issue. The defendant was convicted of all charges.

On appeal, the defendant argued that there should have been a competency hearing before the trial began. Even though there was a report, a hearing gives both sides the opportunity to present evidence and gives the court an opportunity to hear the relevant evidence. Specifically, trial courts are supposed to hold a competency hearing within 20 days after the expert is appointed.

The appeals court here agreed that the court had a responsibility to conduct an actual hearing before proceeding to trial. While the court is allowed to rely on the report submitted by an expert, they are required to make their own independent competency finding. However, while the appeals court agreed that there should have been a competency hearing, they did not agree with the remedy proposed by the defendant. Instead of granting a new trial, the appeals court ordered a hearing to see if they could determine defendant’s competency at the time of trial. The results of this hearing will determine whether the defendant will get a new trial or not.

Contact an Experienced Clearwater Sex Crimes Defense Attorney Today!

Sex crimes are serious charges and defendants need knowledgeable Clearwater sex crimes defense attorneys on their side. The sex crimes defense attorneys at Hanlon Law Firm zealously defend clients charged with sex crimes or other crimes. Contact us online or call our offices at (727) 897-5413 to speak with our skilled attorneys about your case.

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