Competency to Stand Trial for CDV

In order for a criminal defendant to stand trial they must be competent to do so. Competency to stand trial is a legal issue that takes into account a person's ability to understand and participate in their case. There are no hard and fast rules for determining who is competent and who is not. Factors may include educational level, intelligence level, national origin, mental health, physical health and substance abuse.

Because many CDV cases are prosecuted at the Magistrate or Municipal Court level they may move faster. Sometimes there is as little as 10 days between the time of the arrest and the first Court appearance. When someone goes to Court by themselves they are usually subjected to some level of pressure (directly or indirectly) from the police, prosecutor or Court staff to plead guilty or otherwise resolve their case. Without a defense lawyer there may not be anyone who can determine if a defendant may have competency issues.

This is significant if for example the unrepreseneted defendant decides to go along with a guilty plea. The judge may do all things a judge is required to do to qualify the taking of a plea. This may including asking if the defendant is giving up their right to a jury trial, asking them if they are waiving their right to an attorney and if they are waiving their right to be presumed innocent until the State can prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The problem is that someone who is not competent frequently will have no idea of what the words or concepts mean, but will simply answer the questions in the affirmative allowing the process to continue.

Other problems may be:

  •  Not understand the conditions of their bond and is re-arrested for violating a "no contact" order 
  • Quickly pleading guilty when they may in fact not be criminally responsible at all
  • Missing an opportunity to request pre-trial intervention (PTI) or some other method of resolving their case which would be more favorable in their case than a trial.
  • Accepting a jail sentence suspended on completing domestic abuse counseling (a common sentence in South Carolina) and then not being able to actually complete the counseling and then being automatically placed in jail

When I am retained to represent someone who has competency issues this ordinarily requies, at a minimum, that I spend additional time with them in order to help them understand their case and the Court process. Further if necessary I will obtain a professional psychological evaluation and share the findings as appropriate with the prosecution and the Court. Some competency issues serve as an absolute bar to criminal prosecution and othertimes competency issues can be addressed through additional services.

It is important that all defendants charged with CDV have legal representation. It is even more important that those who may have issues like described here have the help a CDV defense lawyer can provide. If you or a loved one has been charged with CDV you are invited to contact my office at (803) 359-3301 to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Domestic Violence
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