Welcome back to Attorney Paz’s rants of a criminal defense attorney! Today I want to talk about competency evaluations. I deal with a lot of people with mental health issues and those mental health issues usually lead people to get arrested. There is no civil commitment procedure in the state anymore, so the vast majority of our population with mental health crises just end up in the criminal justice system. So most of the time, even though clients do have mental health issues, I don’t file motions for competency, and there’s a reason for that. Learn more here.
To File or Not to File?
I usually don’t file motions for competency because the client relationship is important. When you file a motion telling the client that you essentially believe that he’s not competent, it tends to make the client mistrust you. However, there is a concurrent factor, which is I have an ethical responsibility to protect my client. And where I believe that there is a mental health issue that is possibly prohibiting the client from understanding the process of the court, or what’s going on, or the evidence against him, how to compute the evidence against him, and how to effectively weigh his options, I’m ineffective as your counsel if I don’t file this motion.
So I’m often between a rock and a hard place in the sense that I need to consider whether to file a motion at the expense of having the client be upset with me and potentially ruin the attorney-client relationship, but the concurrent issue is I may be saving you from a potentially catastrophic result. This may be the case if, say you’re not competent and you reject a plea offer, then you go to trial and you lose and you go to jail for way more time than had you plead. I have to make sure you’re competent to make the decision to reject that plea offer.
What Happens If You’re Evaluated?
So I don’t file these motions lightly, I’ve been practicing – I’m going on my eighth year – and I’ve filed maybe four motions for competency and I’ve dealt with hundreds of people with mental health issues. But if I file the motion for competency, there is a reason and you need to go to be evaluated.
And if you are found to be incompetent, then there is a possibility that the court sends you up to the state forensic hospital at Whiting in Middletown, where for up to a 60 day period you will be “rehabilitated.” They may medicate you, and they teach you about the justice system and the legal system and what to expect as you proceed in the system. Then you come back to court hopefully restored. But sometimes, if the mental health disease is so severe, the client is not even restorable. In this case they spend an indefinite period of time at CVH.
So that’s my rant for the day. If I file a competency motion, it’s not because I hate you and I want to ruin your case and I want to ruin your life or anything like that. I literally have to because I have an ethical responsibility to you as my client to make sure that you are competent to make the decisions that you need to make. So that’s my rant for the day, if you have any questions about that, feel free to email me at [email protected] and as always take care, don’t get arrested, and see you soon.