After finding defendant competent to stand trial, trial court erred in not suspending proceedings during trial for further examination of defendant’s competence based on her decompensated mental condition. Sims, a former attorney with longstanding mental illness, was charged with murdering her husband. After defense counsel declared a doubt about her competence to stand trial, a medical examiner deemed Sims competent but warned her condition could deteriorate if she continued to decline medication. The trial court found her competent. A few months later the trial court granted her Faretta motion and designated her retained attorney advisory counsel. Sims then moved to withdraw prior in limine motions to exclude her confession and evidence of prior knife attacks on her husband and daughter. Sims made bizarre statements during trial and presented a fantastical defense. A jury convicted her of the murder and the judgment was affirmed on direct appeal. She petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that the trial court erred in not conducting further proceedings pursuant to Penal Code section 1367 et seq. after her Faretta motion was granted. The petition included a declaration from advisory counsel stating that he attempted to express doubt as to Sims’ competence, but the court would not allow him to speak because he was only advisory counsel. Held: Petition granted. If a defendant is found competent to stand trial, a second competency hearing is required if the evidence discloses a substantial change of circumstances. Advisory counsel for a self-represented defendant should be permitted to present evidence of a client’s incompetence. Here, the trial court was confronted with objective evidence showing that Sims was not competent to conduct a rational defense. If it is true advisory counsel attempted to communicate his concerns about her condition, this would constitute changed circumstances requiring the trial court to suspend proceedings until it could ascertain Sims’ competence. The matter was remanded for an evidentiary hearing.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/E069440.PDF