Competency to stand trial is a fundamental legal concept that was established to uphold and protect procedural fairness, judicial integrity, and rights to due process. If a defendant appears to have a mental health condition that makes him unable to understand the court proceedings, the defendant is considered incompetent. Usually, medical or psychological evaluations are requested to assist the juries who are responsible for decision making. The issue of competency is raised at any stage of the criminal proceedings. Even after the commencement of a trial, the court can order the competency evaluation. If the court fails to do so, any resulting conviction would be a violation of due process. Even when a defendant is willing to proceed with an existing mental health condition, the request for competence evaluation is put forward by the defendantâ€™s counselor or attorney or by the court itself. Whenever a defendant exhibits inappropriate or irrational behavior or any other reasonable doubt arises regarding the defendantâ€™s mental capacity, it is important to consider competency assessment.
If a defendant is suffering from a mental illness, it does not automatically imply that the defendant is incompetent. In addition, a defendantâ€™s ability to interpret an object or to recollect some events is not enough to determine the defendantâ€™s competency. It is also important to note that saying a defendant is incompetent to stand trial is not the same as a defendant is not guilty by the reasons of insanity. Sanity determines whether the defendant will be held responsible for their criminal act. It focuses on the mental health condition of a defendant at the time of committing the offense, whereas competency focuses on the present mental capacity of a defendant. A defendantâ€™s insanity is determined only at the end of the trial. In contrast, if a defendant is incompetent to stand trial, then the defendant will get excluded from the trial and will not be found guilty. In the United States, the Supreme Court adopted the standard for competency in the Dusky vs United States case. According to Dusky, a defendantâ€™s competency standard is determined by the defendantâ€™s present ability to consult with an attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and the defendant must have a rational and factual understanding of the proceeding. Some states include rational decision making as a standard for competency. As it is considered as a high standard, Duskyâ€™s formulation focused on the cognitive ability to understand and behavior ability to consult a lawyer. The competency standard varies between states and it concerns the mental state of defendants to stand trial. For example, some states determine competency based on the ability to plead, the ability to understand the evidence, the ability to make decisions after receiving legal advice, and so on.
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