Dedicated Texas Criminal Defender

What does it mean to be incompetent to stand trial?

On Behalf of | Dec 20, 2022 | Criminal defense

Mental illness can take a huge toll on someone’s life, and an arrest for a serious offense can sometimes set off a psychological storm that leaves that person unequipped to participate fully in their own defense.

That’s when competency comes into question. In Texas, every defendant is assumed to be competent to stand trial until the evidence shows otherwise. While all the officers of the court (including the prosecution and judge) have an obligation to protect the Constitutional rights of the accused, it’s usually the defense attorney who will first raise the issue of competency.

A defendant is judged to be incompetent to stand trial when they can not show an ability to rationally interact with their attorney or they’re unable to show rational and factual understandings of the charges against them or trial.

It doesn’t mean that the defendant will never be prosecuted

It’s important not to confuse a finding of incompetency to stand trial with a “not guilty by reason of insanity.” That’s a wholly different finding that ends prosecution over whatever offense is in question because it’s a determination that the defendant did not understand their actions were wrong at the time they were committed.

If someone is found incompetent to stand trial, however, that merely means that they are not able to stand trial right now. It is not a finding of their state of mind at the time of the alleged offense, nor is it necessarily a determination of whether they’ll ever regain competency in the future. Someone currently ajudicated incompetent can be restored to competency after appropriate treatment.

If you are concerned about your loved one’s competency to stand trial, it’s something that should be addressed as soon as possible with their defense. Mental illness should be treated, not punished, and it can be a significant part of a defense strategy.