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.
The defendant later appealed the decision, arguing that the trial judge didn’t hold an adequate competency hearing. He said the judge should have heard witnesses and reached an independent conclusion about his ability to stand trial, rather than simply relying on the two reports by the mental health experts. The Second District disagreed.
“There appears to be no dispute that where the parties and the judge agree, the trial court may decide the issue of competency on the basis of the written reports alone,” the Second District said. The court noted that the defendant’s lawyer said only that the reports raised a couple of issues about his competency that may be revisited during the trial, not that there was any reason he couldn’t stand trial. “Seemingly, defense counsel left it to the trial court to assess [the defendant’s] competency based upon the reports,” the court said.
Nevertheless, the court said the trial judge erred by not issuing an order expressly finding the defendant competent to stand trial. As a result, the court sent the case back to the judge with instructions to enter that order.
If you or a loved one has been charged with a sex crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced lawyer. Clearwater child pornography attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.
More blog posts: