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On the Matter of Incompetency to Stand Trial


In most criminal trials, both parties are expected to be ready to be summoned for appearance in court. In certain circumstances the defendant and the plaintiff will have to show up in court to give their testimony. However, if either of the parties are rendered unfit to stand trial, no trial can take place.

Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys are well aware of the consequences of having their clients declared incompetent to stand trial in court. Competency to stand trial has been touched upon regularly in many courtroom dramas and police procedurals, but what is presented is just enough to be digested by the average viewer. It is time to get a better understanding of the clause and how it can affect a defendant’s chances of getting acquitted or convicted when he or she faces a complaint in court.

The What’s and How’s

Nevada’s Revised Statutes defines competency to stand trial as a person’s ability to comprehend the nature, purpose, and legal implications of the trial about to or is currently taking place. This usually includes being declared mentally fit by a competent medical professional. If the lawyer presents compelling evidence that his or her client is not mentally prepared to stand trial in court, the client can be declared legally incompetent; this usually means that the trial cannot go any further, and any case filed will be annulled.

The process to certify that a person’s competency to stand trial can be tedious at times, but the court will follow through with it in full if there is any doubt raised, even in the middle of the trial proceedings itself. This involves calling in a psychiatric professional duly certified by the Division of Public and Behavioral Health to examine the defendant and determine if he or she can be considered clinically or legally insane. After several key tests, the verdict is provided to the court for review; the results will dictate whether the trial or handing down of the verdict will continue as scheduled, if there will be a need to re-do everything, or if the whole trial can be declared null and void.

An Insane Defense

It has been mentioned earlier that legal fiction has touched upon incompetency to stand trial on several occasions. Much like using the insanity plea, the competency-to-stand-trial clause is often used as a defensive measure to prevent the trial from going further, or to delay or outright nullify a possible conviction. While the use of the incompetency clause is not out of place in real life, how it applies in a real trial can be miles apart from how fictional portrayals show it.

Nothing exemplifies this more than the landmark case of Pete v. Robinson. The defense claimed that the defendant was both mentally insane when he allegedly committed the crime and ineligible to stand trial on account of being mentally unfit to understand the proceedings. The case was a unique one because there have been six years between the time of the alleged crime and the trial itself; as such, it would’ve been difficult to prove insanity even with the overwhelming evidence provided by the defense. The situation evolved to a point that the appeals court ordered a hearing to be held to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial, and no conviction or acquittal can be made until his competency can be proven or not. The case has become a point of reference for similar legal situations ever since.

Do, or Do Not?

The insanity plea is typical for most violent cases that involve physically harming another person, like homicide or domestic violence. The incompetence clause pretty much works on nearly the same conditions, but it only works for the trial itself. Both conditions rely on the defendant’s mental incapacity being proven by an independent expert to be recognized. The defendant can also expect, in most cases, to avoid a conviction if the insanity defense or the plea of incompetence is recognized.

However, using a plea of incompetence to stand trial has the same kinds of setbacks as entering a plea of insanity. The incompetence clause can cause even more legal procedures to get pulled up, separate from the main criminal trial itself. The situation is far more complicated than with the insanity plea, because now the defense has to prove that the defendant is still incapacitated to face trial. It would be next to impossible to prove incompetency if the defendant had been acting normally prior to the trial itself. The implications and possible penalties one can face if they are proven to be feigning incompetency are too much to handle.

Incompetency to stand trial is a touchy matter to discuss; the way it can affect a trial process can be overwhelming, even for the defendant. If a defense lawyer is planning to use it as a tool of last resort, remember that it has a lot of risks involved, and its implications are plenty and far-reaching.

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