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Name: In re John Z.
Case #: A138728
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 02/10/2014

Juvenile court lacked jurisdiction to allow defense counsel to withdraw declaration of doubt as to minor’s competency. The 15-year-old minor was charged with attempted first degree burglary. He was found eligible for deferred entry of judgment but when the juvenile court tried to enter a plea, the minor did not appear to understand the proceedings. His trial attorney declared a doubt as to his competency and the court suspended proceedings (Welf. & Inst. Code, § 709). The doctor appointed to evaluate the minor found him incompetent. The court found the doctor’s report lacking in sufficient detail to be helpful and ordered another evaluation, but the second doctor would only evaluate minors who were at least 17 years old. At a further hearing, defense counsel asked to withdraw her declaration of doubt because the prosecution had offered to amend the petition to allow the minor to admit three misdemeanors. The court granted the motion to amend the petition, withdrawal of counsel’s declaration of doubt, and allowed entry of pleas. The minor appealed. Held: Reversed. “Section 709 makes no provision for a court to withdraw its order suspending proceedings so that the minor’s competency can be determined at a hearing with input from an expert.” In adult proceedings, once substantial evidence reflects the defendant is incompetent, the accused has a constitutional right to a competency hearing. Similarly, once the court here suspended proceedings, a competency hearing was required.