Court Discusses Burden of Recognizing Incompetence in Florida Criminal Cases

Florida law provides criminal defendants with certain rights and protections, in an effort to avoid unjust convictions. One example of these protections is that a defendant must be mentally competent to proceed with a trial. If a defendant is incompetent, or his or her competence is not adequately evaluated prior to a criminal hearing, it may result in a dismissal of any conviction.

In a recent case decided by a Florida appellate court, the court discussed the burden of recognizing incompetence in criminal cases. If you are charged with a criminal offense and you live in Clearwater, you should meet with a trusted Clearwater criminal defense attorney to discuss your case and possible defenses to the charges you face.

Alleged Facts Regarding the Defendant’s Competence

Reportedly, the defendant was convicted of attempted first-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder. He filed a motion to vacate his conviction alleging, in part, that his attorney was ineffective for failing to obtain a competency evaluation. Specifically, he alleged that his attorney obtained an order authorizing a mental health evaluation, but did not make sure an evaluation was completed. The defendant further alleged that he could not adequately communicate with his attorney or exercise his right to a fair trial due to his incompetence. The post-conviction court denied the defendant’s claim, after which he appealed. On appeal, the court granted his motion.

Burden of Proving Incompetence

On appeal, the court held that the post-conviction court erred in placing the burden on the defendant of recognizing his own incompetence and bringing it to the court’s attention, despite the fact he was represented by counsel. Specifically, the appellate court noted the post-conviction court stated that the defendant did not raise the issue of his incompetence in a motion seeking new counsel or during his plea colloquy or motion to withdraw his plea. Further, while the post-conviction court stated that the defendant signed a written agreement stating he was not under the influence of any mental condition, it did not address the fact that he was not questioned regarding his competence.

The court found that the defendant’s attorney was aware of the defendant’s mental illness, as evidenced by his request for a mental health evaluation. No evaluation was ever conducted, however, and the court did not discuss the defendant’s mental health during the colloquy. Thus, the court found that the defendant sufficiently asserted a claim that he was prejudiced by alleging he was incompetent and could not communicate effectively with his attorney. The court remanded the case for the post-conviction court to conduct a hearing on the defendant’s claim.

Meet with a Capable Clearwater Criminal Defense Attorney

In most cases, a person charged with a crime is not aware of all of the defenses available to the charges he or she faces. If you are a Clearwater resident and are currently charged with a crime, it is essential to retain a capable Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will advocate aggressively on your behalf.  Attorney William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a skilled Clearwater criminal defense attorney who will assess the facts of your case and determine what defenses you can assert under the law, in an effort to help you obtain a successful outcome. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted at 727-897-5413 or through the online form to set up a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Competency Evaluation is a Due Process Right and Cannot be Waived Once Raised by Court, Rules Florida Appeals Court, October 27, 2017, Clearwater and St. Petersburg Criminal Lawyer Blog

Contact Information