A person must be competent to stand trial for criminal charges to move forward in Ohio. But what does that mean, exactly? Can you avoid a conviction altogether if you or a loved one is deemed mentally incompetent?

In a recent Portage County case, a man was found not competent to stand trial for the murder of his 11-year-old brother. However, he did not go free. Instead, he was ordered to get treatment at a maximum-security hospital. And while this may not be the outcome everywhere in Ohio, in Portage County, if a person is charged with a violent felony crime and found incompetent, criminal proceedings cannot proceed.

Here’s more on mental capacity in Ohio and what it could mean in your or a loved one’s case.

The Legal Standard for Mental Competency

When it comes to your mental capacity regarding criminal charges, you have a right to understand the charges against you and the legal process you are engaging in. If you cannot comprehend and assist with your defenses, you may be found incompetent to stand trial in Ohio.

Even if the evidence is strong against the defendant, they must be competent to stand trial. If they are not, the process cannot move forward at that time.

Who Decides if a Defendant is Competent?

The judge is responsible for determining whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. They must decide before trial or as soon as possible after the defense raises the issue.

Competency usually becomes an issue when the defendant’s behavior indicates they cannot understand the charges or proceedings. It is the responsibility of the defense attorney to request a mental competency hearing.

Ohio Mental Competency Hearings

A defendant has a right to a hearing to determine if they are fit to stand trial. The request for such a hearing usually comes from their defense attorney.

At the hearing, both parties (the defense and prosecution) will present evidence regarding the defendant’s competency. The judge may also refer to a psychological evaluation. Historical medical evidence, education records, and statements from people who know the defendant may all be used.

The judge will listen to both sides and decide on the individual’s competency.

Remember that if the judge finds the person incompetent, they do not go free. They will receive intensive medical/psychological treatment or eventually stand trial when they become competent.

Evaluations & Testing for Mental Competency

Based on the circumstances, the court may also order a psychological evaluation of a defendant’s mental competency. This evaluation will typically involve court-approved experts, who will interview and conduct a cognitive assessment into whether the defendant can aid in their defense and appreciates the charges against them.

While judges give great weight to these mental competency evaluations, they may consider other factors, such as:

  • The ability to communicate with defense counsel
  • An understanding of the legal process
  • The ability to process information
  • Decision-making regarding the case
  • An understanding of the elements of the charges, the gravity of the charges, and possible penalties

A defendant’s intelligence, education level, difficulty understanding due to language differences, and other communication challenges are not often sufficient to support a finding of incompetency.

What Happens If a Defendant Is Found Incompetent?

If a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, the criminal proceedings against them will not proceed. However, that does not mean that they will be released without consequence. In most cases, like the man in Portage County, they may be sent to a healthcare facility.

An individual will receive treatment for as long as is necessary or until they can stand trial. Once they are medicated and found competent by a judge, they will proceed with the criminal charges assessed initially upon them.

What If a Defendant Is Found Competent?

If a defense attorney requests a competency hearing and the judge finds that the defendant is competent, they will proceed to trial. However, that doesn’t have to be the end of the issue. Sometimes, your lawyer may file an appeal and attempt to get your case reconsidered or reversed by an appellate court.

An Attorney Can Help with Competency Hearings

Mental competency in Ohio criminal cases is often misunderstood. It’s not as easy as “pleading insanity” and having a doctor testify, so you can go home. These are complex legal matters, often requiring exhaustive medical and psychological evidence.

But if you or a loved one has been charged with a crime and feel as though mental competency needs to be addressed, contact a criminal defense lawyer.

In Portage, Medina, or Summit County, Ohio, call Erb Legal at (330) 869-9007 or reach out online for a free and confidential case consultation.

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