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RELIEF FROM JUDGMENTS REGARDING COMPETENCY TO STAND TRIAL

Criminal Law & Procedure:Appeals: Right to Appeal

Criminal Law & Procedure: Habeas Corpus

A defendant does not generally have a right to appeal a judgment from a hearing on the defendant's competency to stand trial. The defendant only has a right to appeal his or her conviction for the offense with which he or she was charged.

When an appellate court reviews a defendant's conviction, the appellate court conducts a review of a hearing on the defendant's competency to stand trial. The standard that the appellate court uses to review the competency hearing is the sufficiency of the evidence standard. The appellate court determines whether any rational judge or jury could have found that the defendant failed to prove that he or she was incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence.

If an appellate court finds error in a hearing on a defendant's competency to stand trial, but finds no error in the trial of the defendant's offense, the appellate court may return the defendant's case to the trial court for a new competency hearing. If the defendant is found competent at the new hearing, the appellate court then only reviews the second competency determination. If the defendant is found incompetent at the new hearing, the defendant is entitled to a new trial after he or she has regained competency.

A defendant may raise the issue of a trial court's failure to conduct a competency hearing when he or she appeals his or her conviction. The defendant does not have to raise the issue prior to his or her appeal. If an appellate court finds that the trial court should have conducted a competency hearing, the appellate court normally returns the defendant's case to the trial court for a determination of whether a retrospective competency hearing can be held. If the trial court finds that a retrospective competency hearing can be held, the trial court proceeds with the hearing. If the defendant is found competent at the retrospective competency hearing, the defendant's conviction and sentence remain in effect. If the trial court finds that a retrospective competency hearing cannot be held, the defendant is normally granted a new trial.

In addition to an appeal of a defendant's conviction based on a judgment regarding the defendant's competency to stand trial or on a trial court's failure to conduct a competency hearing, the defendant may attack his or her conviction by filing an application for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that the defendant was incompetent at the time of his or her trial. An application for a writ of habeas corpus is a proceeding whereby the defendant seeks to be released from custody.

At a hearing on a defendant's application for a writ of habeas corpus on the ground of the defendant's competency to stand trial, a court must ascertain whether a trial court determined the defendant's competency and whether a determination can be made on the defendant's competency to stand trial. If the court finds that there was no determination on the defendant's competency, the court must give the prosecution an opportunity to challenge its finding. If the court finds that it cannot make a determination on the defendant's competency, it must set aside the defendant's conviction and order a new trial. If the court finds that it can make a determination on the defendant's competency, it must hold a hearing on the defendant's competency to stand trial.

Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.