Two years ago a San Diego man named Carlo Mercado was arrested for shooting his two brothers Salvatore and Gianni Belvedere and his fiancée, Ilona Flint, at Mission Valley mall on Christmas Eve. The couple was discovered shot inside their car, which was parked in the mall’s parking lot. Gianni’s decomposing body was also found in a car parked at a Riverside Mall in January 2014. San Diego Police arrested Mercado in June 2014. Mercado has pled not guilty on three counts of first-degree murder.
Last November, a judge ruled Mercado not competent to stand trial for his murder charges after two psychiatrists and one psychologist diagnosed Mercado with schizophrenia, psychosis, and catatonic depression. The judge further ordered him to be treated at Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino, CA for the next three years until he was found competent to assist in his own defense. Mercado has been at San Diego Central Jail since this past September, since evaluators at the hospital said he was now competent to stand trial. Mercado’s lawyer then requested a competency trial for him, indicating that the defense team will be arguing Mercado is still unable to understand the nature of his criminal proceedings or assist in his own counsel. Earlier this week, a judge set the competency trial for December 14.
What Does it Mean to be Competent to Stand Trial?
Under the U.S. criminal law system, everyone has the fundamental right to understand the criminal proceedings against him or her and to be able to assist in his or her own defense. Someone who is incompetent (aka diminished capacity) to stand trial is unable to do so, and cannot be convicted of a crime. As such, courts require competency in order to preserve due process and to make sure a trial is fair.
Under California law, Penal Code § 1368, defendants are considered to be mentally incompetent if:
- They unable to understand the nature of the criminal proceedings;
- They are unable to assist their lawyer in their own defense.
All trial courts have the authority to order psych evaluations of defendants, and one’s lawyer may also request one. These evaluations must be given by an objective, licensed professional. The defendants are typically judged on how they communicate, whether they understand their crime and their charges, their demeanor in court, etc.
However, it important to note that incompetency is not an affirmative legal defense. It does not speak to one’s mental state during the crime, it only speaks to whether they can understand their proceedings. It is common practice to treat a defendant until he or she is competent enough to prosecute.
San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney
At the Law Offices of David M. Boertje, we understand the unfairness of prosecutors who want to convict a victim of mental illness who does not understand his or her actions. Our law firm seeks a psych evaluation whenever appropriate. Contact us today at at (760) 476 0901 or visit us online.