Where a criminal defendant had been restored to competence through medication, evidence the defendant was no longer taking the medication and was exhibiting signs of incompetence required a new competency hearing. Prior to his trial for three murders and two attempted murders, criminal proceedings against Rodas were suspended to conduct a competence examination. (Pen. Code, § 1368.) The doctors found appellant suffered from severe mental illness and he was committed to a state hospital. After several months of treatment, doctors found he was competent due to medication he had been given, and that he had to continue his medication to remain competent. The court reinstated criminal proceedings. Trial counsel again expressed a doubt as to Rodas’ competence. The trial court also learned Rodas was off his medications. After conducting a short colloquy with Rodas, the trial court concluded he was competent. A jury found him guilty on several counts. Rodas appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. A person cannot be tried or punished while mentally incompetent. A person is incompetent to stand trial if, as a result of mental disorder, the defendant is unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceeding or of assisting in his defense. Penal Code 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. Here, the trial court erred by not instituting a second round of competency proceedings when it was presented with a substantial change of circumstance that cast doubt on the competency finding. Its discussion with Rodas did not discharge this duty. A retrospective competency hearing cannot redress the error in this case because there is insufficient evidence to reliably determine Rodas’ mental competence at the time of his trial.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S237379.PDF