After trial counsel declares a doubt regarding defendant’s competency and the trial court suspends criminal proceedings, counsel may not withdraw the declaration and the trial court must make a finding regarding competency. Defendant was charged with the fatal stabbing of an elderly disabled man. On the day of the preliminary hearing, defense counsel expressed a doubt regarding defendants competency and criminal proceeding were suspended (Pen. Code, § 1368). The trial court appointed a doctor to examine defendant and prepare a report, and set the matter for a competency hearing, which was continued 14 times. On the day set for the competency trial, defense counsel withdrew his declaration of doubt and the trial court reinstated criminal proceedings. Defendant was convicted of first degree murder and appealed the trial court’s failure to hold a competency hearing. Held: Conditional reversal. Under section 1368, if the trial court declares a doubt regarding a defendant’s competency, it must inquire of trial counsel whether counsel believes defendant is mentally incompetent. If counsel expresses a doubt regarding defendant’s competency, criminal proceedings must be suspended and a competency hearing held. Here, the trial court impliedly declared a doubt as to defendant’s competency when it suspended criminal proceedings, set the matter for a competency trial, and continued that proceeding a number of times. The trial court lacked jurisdiction to reinstate criminal proceedings without first finding defendant competent to stand trial. The competency matter could not be waived by defendant or his counsel. The trial court’s failure to hold a competency hearing denied defendant due process of law.
The matter must be conditionally remanded to determine whether a meaningful retrospective competency hearing can be made consistent with the defendant’s right to due process. There are four factors considered to determine whether a meaningful retrospective competency hearing is feasible: (1) the passage of time, (2) the availability of contemporaneous medical evidence, (3) statements by defendant in the trial record, and (4) the availability of witnesses who were in a position to interact with defendant before and during trial. Based on the prior proceedings in this case (including a contemporaneous doctor’s report, appellant’s statements at a confidential hearing, and a probation report that detailed disciplinary reports in jail), it appears that a retrospective competency hearing is feasible. The matter was remanded to the trial court to make this determination.
Trial court did not err under People v. Sanchez (2016) 63 Cal.4th 665 by admitting medical examiner’s testimony about the victim’s wounds and postmortem condition, which were detailed in an autopsy report prepared by a different doctor. Relying on an autopsy report prepared by a former employee, the medical examiner testified as to the victim’s height and weight, and depth of the knife wound. Defendant argued that the trial court erred in overruling his Sanchez objection to this evidence. The Court of Appeal disagreed. An expert witness may rely on hearsay in forming an opinion, and may tell the jury in general terms that he did so. Statements describing the pathologist’s anatomical and physiological observations about the condition of the body are not testimonial in nature because they merely record objective facts and are less formal than statements setting forth a pathologist’s expert conclusions. (People v. Dungo (2012) 55 Cal.4th 608, 619. But see People v. Perez (2018) 4 Cal.5th 421, 456-457 [testimony describing victim’s injuries from stabbing, which was based on autopsy report, related case-specific facts about the victim’s body and constituted hearsay, but any error under the confrontation clause was harmless; court declined to address Dungo’s continued viability].) In addition, the autopsy photos, which documented the depth of the knife, were not testimonial and were properly admitted. [Editor’s Note: Defendant filed a petition for review, which was denied. Justice Corrigan was of the opinion the petition should be granted.]
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/B289385.PDF