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Incompetence: The Perfect Get out of Jail Free Card

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Being elected as one of the nine judges at the Texas Criminal Court of Criminal Appeals is an honorable, yet a very difficult way to serve justice in the Lone Star State. This is a judicial body that determines whether the State of Texas actually has the right to invoke capital punishment and execution, and it was this court that recently decided a delicate matter on the grounds of incompetence.
In September of 2013, the Texas Criminal Court of Criminal Appeals decided that a mentally ill prisoner on death row could not be forced to be medicated for the purpose of treating his condition. As a result, the Texas inmate could not proceed with execution. The rationale of the court’s decision was based on the fact that the inmate could not be considered competent to undergo a legal proceeding unless he was medicated. Since the death penalty is part of the law in Texas, the state cannot proceed unless the defendant is competent to do so.

Defining Incompetency in Criminal Justice

In broad terms, incompetency can be defined as a lack of physical ability or intellectual qualifications needed to accomplish something. In many judicial systems, criminal courts are obligated to stop legal proceedings if they find evidence that supports the incompetency of a defendant or a witness whose testimony is crucial.

As wardens of law and justice, judges are in a position to order an investigation to determine is a defendant is competent to stand trial. The same goes for criminal defense attorneys who notice that their clients may be incompetent; they are obligated to prove that their clients cannot participate in trial proceedings. In fact, prosecutors who observe incompetency should notify the court as well.

In Texas, incompetency is defined as the inability to consult with a criminal defense attorney to a reasonable degree. In other words, defendants must show that they have rational and factual understanding of the proceedings.

Incompetency and Insanity

In some cases, the court can suspend proceedings when defendants are temporarily incompetent. For example, criminal defendants who take psychoactive medications for personality or mental health disorders may need to be evaluated since there may be a chance that their pharmaceutical regime fails to make them mentally competent.

A defendant who is determined to be mentally insane might prompt a not guilty verdict by reason of insanity. This is slightly different than incompetence since the trial is not halted, but the insanity fact must be weighed and the defendant must be acquitted of the criminal charges.

Mental Capacity to Stand Trial

The rationale of a criminal court is that the law cannot be forced upon someone who does not have the mental capacity to stand trial. To do so would be a violation of civil and human rights.

Mental capacity is defined as the ability of a defendant to understand charges, court proceedings, legal strategies, and possible punishments. In the absence of mental capacity, the court might determine incompetency.

Get out of Your Trial

If you or a loved one is facing court charges, you may be able to plead incompetency. In order to be successful though, you will likely need assistance from an experienced criminal defense attorney. Let Brett A. Podolsky help you today by calling 713.227.0087.

*Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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