Inquiring Into Defendant’s Competency in Utah Criminal Cases

In an effort to protect the constitutional rights of a criminal defendant, the Utah Legislature has set forth a procedure to inquire into the competency of a criminal defendant.  Under our system of jurisprudence the mentally incompetent cannot stand trial for certain crimes.  You have to be able to form the requisite mental intent to commit certain crimes and mental incapacity negates the required intent.

How Do You Inquire Into Competency?

Utah Code § 77-15-3 sets forth the procedure for getting a court order to inquire into the competency of a defendant.  The defendant has to file a petition with the court that contains a certificate that it is filed in good faith and on reasonable grounds to believe the defendant is incompetent to proceed.  This certificate is usually signed by the defendant’s attorney as the attorney is generally the gatekeeper of determining whether the defendant’s competency should be questioned.

Once the petition is filed the court can either set a hearing to argue the issue of whether the defendant’s competency should be investigated, or the court can simply file an order to have the defendant evaluated.

The Evaluation

If the court enters an order for a competency evaluation the defendant will have to meet with two certified evaluators, likely psychologists/psychiatrists, who will meet with the defendant and conduct various tests to determine whether the defendant is competent.  They will each produce a written report to be given to the judge and the attorneys.  If the evaluators reach the same conclusion the judge is likely to follow the results.  If the evaluators have a split in opinion then the court will hold an evidentiary hearing and make a determination after hearing the evidence.

If Incompetent, Commitment to the State Hospital

If the defendant is found to be incompetent the court will order the defendant released to the executive director of the Department of Human Services or a designee for the purpose of treatment intended to restore the defendant to competency.  The examiners at the state hospital will report to the court and after the 90 day period will report whether the defendant can be restored to competency.

If you or someone you love may have competency issues, call our Utah criminal defense lawyers at 801.618.1334 for a consultation.

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