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Name: In re Galaviz
Case #: G055228
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 05/18/2018

Trial court erred by not holding a second competency hearing when presented with evidence raising a serious doubt about whether defendant was competent to stand trial. In 1994, Galaviz was charged with assault and drug possession, with multiple enhancements. Prior to trial, the trial court found he was mentally incompetent to stand trial, suspended criminal proceedings, and committed him to the state hospital pursuant to Penal Code section 1368. In 1995, medical staff at the hospital reported that Galaviz had been restored to competency, but also reported that his condition was marginal and that a trial should be conducted quickly. The court found his competency had been restored and reinstated criminal proceedings. Galaviz entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. A doctor was appointed to determine whether Galaviz was legally insane at the time he committed the offenses and reported there was a substantial likelihood Galaviz was legally insane during the commission of the crime. He also reported that he had concerns about Galaviz’s ability to rationally cooperate with others but did not offer an opinion about Galaviz’s competency because it was outside the scope of his appointment. At a bench trial, the court found Galaviz was legally insane when he committed the offenses and thus not guilty by reason of insanity. Galaviz was committed to a state hospital for a maximum term of 60 years to life. After filing unsuccessful habeas petitions in the state and federal courts, Galaviz filed a habeas petition in the Court of Appeal in 2017, arguing the trial court should have held another mental competency hearing. Held: Petition granted. When a defendant has been found competent to stand trial after a competency hearing, a trial court is required to conduct another competency hearing if it is presented with a substantial change of circumstances or with new evidence that gives rise to a “serious doubt” about the validity of the competency finding. Here, the reports about Galaviz’s mental state more than constituted the requisite evidence raising a serious doubt regarding his competency to stand trial.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, a retrospective competency hearing was not feasible in this case to cure the trial court’s error in failing to hold a subsequent competency hearing before trial. A trial court’s error in failing to conduct a subsequent competency hearing constitutes reversible error unless it is feasible for that error to be cured by conducting a retrospective competency hearing. The Court of Appeal here concluded the prosecution failed to carry its burden of showing such a hearing was feasible. In assessing whether a retrospective competency hearing is feasible, the trial court should consider (1) the passage of time, (2) the availability of contemporaneous medical evidence, (3) any statements by the defendant in the trial record, and (4) the availability of individuals and witnesses who were in a position to interact with the defendant before and during trial. (People v. Lightsey (2012) 54 Cal.4th 668, 710.) Applying these factors, the court concluded that a retrospective competency hearing was not feasible based on the record in this case, which included the record of habeas corpus proceedings in the trial court. The prosecution failed to carry its burden of persuasion to show a retrospective competency hearing would provide Galaviz a fair opportunity to prove incompetence as opposed to showing merely whether some evidence exists by which the trier of fact might reach a decision on the subject. The Court of Appeal granted the petition for writ of habeas corpus and remanded to the trial court to strike the commitment order and permit Galaviz to withdraw his plea of not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges alleged in the information.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: