What does it mean to be found incompetent?

In August, a 33-year-old Minnesota man led local officials on a 30-mile high-speed chase. According to the Red Lake Nation News, law enforcement noticed the man driving nearly 20 miles an hour over the speed limit on the highway. When troopers attempted to pull over the driver, he accelerated and, according to law enforcement, was swerving into oncoming traffic. Eventually, the man lost control of the vehicle, got out of the car and started threatening officers, who eventually placed him under arrest.

The Northland News Center reports that the man faces criminal charges of fleeing a police officer and fourth degree DWI, among others. However, his attorney notes that, based on the man’s current mental condition, he does not appear competent to stand trial.

Judging competency

The Supreme Court of the United States established competency in order to ensure that a defendant can rationally participate in and understand the court process. The law states that anyone who may face the death penalty must be found competent. Additionally, if either attorney or the court questions the mental state or status of the defendant, there must be a motion to raise the issue and the criminal proceedings must be suspended.

Someone who is found incompetent may have a mental illness, psychosis or a low I.Q. According to the Minnesota statute, a defendant’s consent is not necessary to use the incompetent defense. Once the issue is raised, a hearing to determine competency will take place, at which there may be evidence regarding the defendant’s mental condition. Court-appointed physicians may review the evidence, listen to testimony and, most importantly, examine the person in question. Even the defense attorney may testify at the hearing.

Outcome of competency hearings

There are several different situations that can stem from a competency hearing, such as the following:

  • If the defendant is found competent, the trial will proceed.
  • If the defendant is found incompetent and the trial is in regard to a misdemeanor, the court must start civil commitment proceedings or dismiss the case if it will not pose a threat to society.
  • If the defendant is found incompetent and there are felony charges at stake, the court must start the civil commitment process.

If someone is placed in an institution, the person’s estate or family is responsible for the charges associated with the cost of care. The goal of this process is to restore competence. Once that is achieved, the trial may resume. If there is no reasonable expectation that a defendant will regain competency, that person will be committed to a mental health institution.

People facing criminal charges should speak to an attorney regarding a defense plan, which may include contesting competency.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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