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What is competency to proceed?

While our Tampa criminal attorney blog has discussed issues concerning not guilty by reason of insanity, which was recently highlighted by the Julie Schenecker trial in Tampa, competency is a wholly different, separate issue.  While not guilty by reason of insanity is an issue raised at the conclusion of a trial relating to guilty and innocence, competency to proceed is an issue raised during the pendency of the trial.  There are several critical things to highlight during a discussion regarding competency to proceed. Florida Statute 916.12 provides the statutory basis for determining competency to proceed.

First, competency to proceed is an incredibly difficult standard to reach.  A Tampa criminal attorney must present evidence to the court through the testimony of a treating professional that the accused is unable to understand the most basic tenants of the criminal system.  For example, the individual must not be able to understand the role of the prosecutor, judge, jury and defense attorney.  Again as you can imagine, this is an incredibly high standard to reach.  Generally, the most argued factor for Tampa Criminal Attorneys is that the defendant cannot assist in their own defense and/or testify in their own defense.  This factor takes into account that many individuals while understanding the role of courtroom personnel may not be able to assist in their own defense because their perception of reality is so skewed.

Secondly, this standard is totally different than not guilty by reason of insanity.  In addition to the difference highlight above, if an individual is incompetent, the matter will not proceed forward and make it to a trial.  If someone is not competent, then the prosecution is essentially suspended until the accused has had their competency restored or the State Attorney’s Office willingly dismisses the charges against the individual.

Lastly, if someone is deemed incompetent, it is important to highlight they simply do not walk free without any sanctions or supervision.  Rather they can be shipped away to a Florida state hospital for competency training, which consists of attempts to educate someone about the requirements and basic tenants of the criminal justice system.  For example, the training will focus on educating the accused regarding the role of the judge, jury, defense attorney and prosecutor.  As you can imagine, the majority of folks, who undergo this training, are eventually deemed competent.  This is extremely concerning since most individuals, if told something enough times can simply regurgitate it, but it still begs the question – do they really understand what is going on or are they just repeating what they have been told? Obviously, the length of time the Court will exercise supervision will relate to the seriousness of the offense and the State Attorney’s Office’s willingness to dismiss the charges.

If you or someone you know has questions concerning competency to proceed, contact the Tampa criminal attorneys of Hackworth Law for a free case consultation.  We have handled tens of thousands of criminal cases throughout the entire Tampa Bay area, including matters relating to competency.   If you would like to contact one of our Tampa criminal attorneys immediately, please use the “contact us now” tab in the upper right hand corner of our website.  We also offer a free, secure chat box in the lower right hand corner of our website and have operators standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to connect you to one of our Tampa Criminal Attorneys.  We appreciate your time in checking out our Tampa criminal attorney blog and look forward to working with yo