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What is competency as it relates to a Florida criminal case?

Tampa criminal attorneys are often asked about competency to stand trial because unfortunately so many criminal cases can trace their roots back to mental health issues.  Further, the media in recent years has made a significant deal about competency to stand trial because of several high profile cases involving mental health issues, such as countless mass shootings throughout the country and the widespread commercialization of serial killers in movies and television shows.

Like so many other places in our Tampa criminal defense attorney blog, it is critical to go the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure to start our analysis of the issue.  Specifically, Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure, Rule 3.210(b) addresses competency and gives us some of the standards we look at initially to consider competency. Further, Florida case law is provided the fill-in-the blanks, if you will, of how we evaluate competency and determine whether someone is specifically competent.

Specifically, it’s necessary to consider what exactly competency means.  In general, it requires a defendant to be able to understand the nature and purpose of the legal proceedings against them and cooperate effectively with their attorney.  First, they must understand the charge against them.  This means they must be able to understand the elements of the charge and the evidence necessary to support those elements.  Secondly, an individual must understand the courtroom proceedings, including but not limited to what the roles of those individuals in the courtroom are, including, but not limited to the judge, the assistant state attorney, their defense attorney, etc.  Further, they must understand and be able to comprehend the requirements for how to act in a courtroom.  They must understand that they are not able to stand up and yell things or threaten the jury.  More often than not, this is an area where folks who may be pretending to be incompetent often focus on.   In our experience, court –appointed experts are especially careful while evaluating folks for this specific requirement.  Thirdly, and most importantly, an individual must be able to cooperate with their counsel.  This requires them to have the ability to plan and recall facts of the case, including their motive for why they may have committed such an act.

Lastly and most importantly, it’s also important to note that more often than not, individuals who are found incompetent are not simply released to the general public.  More often than not, they are sent to a state hospital to undergo what is called competency training or rehabilitative competency training.  This occurs when individuals are treated to begin to learn and appreciate those three factors highlighted in the paragraph above.  They are educated as to what the role of the judge is, what the role of the jury is, what the role of their defense attorney is, what the specific charges against them mean, etc.  Many defense attorneys and psychologists have major objections to this because it is essentially teaching folks to study for the test, rather than truly treating their mental health needs and shortcomings.  If someone is told what a jury means for several years, then is reevaluated for competency and is able to spit out a prepared response that they’ve learned during their competency training, it begs the question are they truly competent or are they simply repeating an answer  they have been told time and time again.  This is a serious and developing issue in the Florida criminal defense world, we discuss it elsewhere on our Tampa criminal attorney blog.

If you have questions concerning competency or other mental health issues relating to your Florida criminal case, contact the Tampa criminal attorneys at Hackworth Law for a free case consultation.  We’ve handled thousands of criminal matters throughout the Tampa Bay area and look forward to sitting down with you and determining a specialized case strategy to ensure your rights are protected.  If you would like to contact one of our Tampa criminal lawyers immediately, please use the “contact us now” tab in the upper right-hand corner of our website.  We appreciate your taking the time to check out our Tampa criminal attorney blog and look forward to working with you in the future.