What Happens if I Am Found Incompetent to Stand Trial?
Even for people who suffer from severe mental illness, being found incompetent to stand trial is something that happens very rarely in the criminal justice system. The standard for being incompetent to stand trial isn’t simply that you suffer from a mental illness, and it is very difficult to meet. In order to be found incompetent to stand trial, one of the following requirements must be met:
- The defendant does not understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him or her. In order to meet this standard, the defendant cannot have even a minimal understanding of his or her role as a defendant, the role of the judge, the prosecutor, or the defense attorney, the penalties that he or she is facing as a result of being charged with a crime, or the criminal process. A defendant who does not understand the nature and the object of the proceedings against him or her is most typically someone with extremely low intelligence, or who is suffering from significant psychosis.
- The defendant is unable to assist in his or her defense in a rational manner. In order to meet this standard, the defendant is unable to do things like discuss with his or her attorney the facts of the case, rationally make decisions regarding things like plea offers or whether or not to testify on their own behalf at trial. A defendant who is unable to assist in his or her defense in a rational manner is likely suffering from severe psychotic symptoms.
If a person does meet one of the two requirements to meet the standard for being incompetent to stand trial, the Court will order that person to undergo treatment, supervised by the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry. The Forensic Center, or another psychiatric hospital working at their direction, will treat the defendant to attempt to restore them to competency.
A finding that someone is incompetent to stand trial does not mean that the defendant will no longer be prosecuted for the crime for which they are charged. Being found incompetent to stand trial means something very different than being found not to be criminally responsible due to insanity. A defendant who has been found incompetent to stand trial will be administered treatment for up to 15 months in order to attempt to make them competent to stand trial. After a defendant is restored to competency, they will return to the court system to enter a plea, have a trial, or in some manner adjudicate their case.
If a defendant is being treated for his or her inability to understand the nature and the object of the proceedings, they will likely go through training and education to try to teach them about the court proceedings, including their role as a defendant, and the role of the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney. The forensic center will work with them on education regarding the criminal process, and work through how they might evaluate a situation like a plea offer from the prosecuting attorney.
If a defendant is being treated for his or her inability to assist in his or her defense in a rational manner, he or she may receive medication as well as therapy to treat their condition.
In many cases, a defendant who has been found incompetent to stand trial both cannot understand the nature and the object of the proceedings, and is unable to rationally assist in his or her defense. In those cases, treatment is likely to include medication, therapy, and education.
Treatment for defendants who are found incompetent to stand trial is most often on an inpatient basis, and defendants will not be free to come and go from the treating facility, whether that is the forensic center or another psychiatric hospital. However, visits from family members and attorneys are generally permitted during the time that the defendant is receiving treatment at those facilities.
If you or a loved one have concerns about competency to stand trial, the lawyers at Blanchard Law have extensive experience in serving clients suffering from mental illness and competency issues. Feel free to contact one of our criminal defense attorneys to discuss your case.