Friday, May 3, 2019
Court of Appeal:
Defense Counsel May Not Withdraw Request, Opinion Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday “conditionally” reversed a conviction for first degree murder with personal use of a weapon because the trial judge did not make a finding as to the defendant’s capacity to stand trial in light of his lawyer’s withdrawal of a request that he do so.
If, on remand to the Ventura Superior Court, a judge finds that defendant Ruben Matthew Gonzales was competent when he was tried in January 2018, the conviction will be reinstated, but if it is determined that it’s not feasible at this point to determine competency retroactively, a new trial will be held, the opinion declares.
Acting Presiding Justice Kenneth Yegan of Div. Six wrote:
“A person charged with a crime may not stand trial if he is mentally incompetent. Once defense counsel declares a doubt as to competence, it may not be withdrawn. The issue can only be resolved upon a trial court finding of competence vel non.”
Yegan noted that under Penal Code §1368, an inquiry in to an accused’s mental competency proceeding is kicked off when “a doubt arises in the mind of the judge as to the mental competence of the defendant.”
In Gonzales’s case, he acknowledged, the inquiry was initiated in response to the defense lawyer expressing a concern that his client was not for trial. He said:
“Here, the trial court did not expressly declare a doubt about appellant’s competency. But it impliedly did so by suspending the criminal proceedings….
“The initial order setting a competency hearing was followed by 14 continuances of the hearing. This is tantamount to a finding that the trial court declared a doubt as to appellant’s competency.”
The case is People v. Gonzales, B289385.
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