A trial court may not conduct a competency hearing after a defendant is adjudicated mentally incompetent to stand trial, found unlikely to regain competence, and has served the maximum commitment term. In 2011, Taitano was found incompetent to stand trial for murder and other offenses and was committed to the state hospital for treatment. In 2013, the state hospital reported that Taitano was still incompetent and was unlikely to regain competency in the foreseeable future. When he was returned to court for further proceedings, the court referred him to the public guardian to investigate a conservatorship. Ultimately, no conservatorship was filed because Taitano was not gravely disabled and his dangerousness was not the result of mental illness. Taitano filed a habeas petition seeking his release. The prosecution asked the trial court to conduct a new competency hearing. The trial court refused, finding no statutory basis to do so. It granted Taitano’s habeas petition and ordered him released. The prosecution appealed. Held: Affirmed. The due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and state law (Pen. Code, § 1367) prohibit the state from trying and convicting a defendant who is mentally incompetent to stand trial. Once found incompetent, a defendant who remains committed due to incompetency must be returned to court after either three years or the maximum period of imprisonment for the most serious charged offense, whichever is shorter. If the accused is “gravely disabled,” the court must order the commencement of conservatorship proceedings. If the defendant remains incompetent but is not gravely disabled, the court must release him from confinement. The only time the statute expressly authorizes a defendant’s return to court for a competency hearing is at the 18-month commitment mark (Pen. Code, § 1370, subd. (b)(4)). Otherwise, the trial court has no jurisdiction to convene a competency hearing while criminal proceedings are suspended. The prosecution failed to show that the trial court had express or implied authority to hold a new competency hearing under the circumstances of this case.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/A147412.PDF