When the trial court is confronted with circumstances that are inconsistent with assumptions on which defendant’s competency findings were based, it has a duty to declare a doubt as to his competency. Defendant confessed to robbing a convenience store on three occasions and killing the owner of the store during one of the robberies. He claimed his acts were the result of a government mind control project. He also admitted he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. He was initially found incompetent to stand trial and criminal proceedings were suspended. In a subsequent hearing the trial court found defendant could set aside his delusions to assist counsel and that his competency had been restored. Defendant testified at trial and admitted the charges, claiming the government made him do it. He was convicted of first degree murder and other offenses. On appeal he argued the trial court should have declared a doubt regarding his competency based on his trial testimony. Held: Reversed. A defendant whose mental disorder renders him unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings or to assist counsel in the conduct of a defense in a rational manner, is incompetent to stand trial (Pen. Code, § 1367). When a defendant is initially found incompetent to stand trial but is later determined to have regained competence, the assumptions on which the finding of competence was based provide guidance for later proceedings. Here, defendant’s testimony provided new facts that undermined the express basis for the court’s competency finding. The trial court should have declared a doubt as to defendant’s competence and conducted a hearing on the matter.
Because a retrospective competency proceeding would not be fair or produce a reliable result, the judgment of conviction must be reversed. There might be circumstances in which a trial court’s failure to hold a competency hearing could be remedied by a retrospective hearing. This in part depends on whether there is sufficient evidence in the record to reliably determine the defendant’s mental competence at the time of his earlier trial. Here, defendant’s symptoms fluctuated or were suppressed by him, and his most recent psychiatric evaluation was almost a year before the competency issue reemerged. Thus, the trial court’s failure to hold a hearing as to defendant’s competency was prejudicial and requires reversal for a new trial.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/D075364.PDF