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Name: People v. Murdoch
Case #: G043313
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 04/12/2011

Where a self-represented defendant argues the victim of his assault is not human, and medical reports cautioned that defendant may decompensate without medication, the trial court erred in not instituting competency proceedings. Prior to his trial for assault with a deadly weapon, criminal proceedings against appellant were suspended to conduct a competence examination (Pen. Code, §1368). The doctors found appellant suffered from severe mental illness but was competent due to medication he had been given, but was now refusing to take. The doctors warned appellant could decompensate without medication. The court reinstated criminal proceedings. Several months later, the court granted appellant’s motion for self representation. Prior to the taking of evidence at trial, appellant told the court his defense to the charges was that the victim was not human, as indicated by the fact he lacked shoulder blades, which are “symbolic of angelic beings.” During cross examination, appellant asked the victim, “Can you shrug your shoulders like this?” He was found guilty. Noting that a person cannot be tried or punished while mentally incompetent (Pen. Code, §1367, subd. (a)), the Court of Appeal found the trial court erred by not instituting competency proceedings. Appellant’s statements together with the doctor’s reports provided substantial evidence he may have become incompetent. Section 1368 requires a trial court to make inquiry regarding a defendant’s mental state if it has any doubt as to the defendant’s competence to stand trial. While it could be argued the record contained no evidence that appellant could not understand the nature and purpose of the trial proceedings, it did provide a reasonable doubt as to whether appellant could rationally conduct a defense. Judgment reversed.