What is the Difference Between Being Found Incompetent to Stand Trial and Pleading Insanity as a Defense?

Tragically, earlier this July, 29- year old David Owens opened fire on a hospital room on the third floor of Parrish Medical Center killing the room’s two inhabitants. Security guards reported that as soon as Owens ceased fire he said “I’ve done something wrong”. Accordingly to family and friends, Owens had battled with mental instability and had even been deemed incompetent to stand trial for charges earlier this year. This raises an interesting question, that being, if Owens had already been found mentally incapable of standing trial previously, could he face trial now?

The answer is no. Since Owens has already been deemed judicially incompetent to stand trial, he cannot now be forced to go to trial unless the attorneys and judge work to have his competency restored in the eyes of the court.

What Does it Mean to Be Mentally Incompetent to Stand Trial?

Being declared mentally unfit for trial is not the same thing as presenting a plea of insanity to the judge. Claiming that insanity lead you to commit the crime for which you are charged is different than claiming you are completely unfit to stand trial. Essentially, pleading insanity is a legal defense in court but if you are deemed incompetent to stand trial, then you will never go to court.

The U.S. Supreme Court has mandated that a person must be competent to stand trial. In order to be found fit for trial, a professional evaluator must determine that (1) the defendant understands the charges brought against him or her and (2) the defendant has the ability to aid his or her attorney in their defense. The court is under a duty to order the evaluation if there is any question as to the individual’s mental status.

Competency Can Be Restored: Why Would You Want to go to Trial?

If an individual is found incompetent to stand trial, they can be sent to an institution where therapy sessions can result in improved cognitive abilities. These improvements may push them back over the threshold so that they are deemed mentally capable of standing trial. In some cases, the defendant has no choice, but might there be an instance where it would be legally advisable to stand trial for the crime?

Imagine a situation where a defendant has a really solid insanity defense that will present well to a jury. If the defendant is found not guilty by reasons of insanity, then he or she can likely go back to their life. If, however, the defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, and never gets a chance to assert this affirmative defense, then they may face many months in a mental institution while they are evaluated for competency. A defendant can be committed by the court until the person’s competency is restored.

All Criminal Charges Require Expert Legal Defense, Especially When Mental Capacity is in Question

Only expert legal counsel can help you or your loved one navigate the high stakes nuances of how mental health is treated in criminal court. Henderson Legal Group has that expert experience required in these difficult situations including but not limited to homicide, sex offenses and gun crimes. Contact us today for a free consultation.


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