What is the Difference Between Insanity and Incompetence to Stand Trial in California?

The Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment protects people who are not competent from being unfairly prosecuted during a criminal trial. In some situations, it is beneficial for a defendant to be declared incompetent to stand trial because they lack the ability to understand their charges or they are mentally unfit to be involved in their own case. Often, incompetence gets confused with an insanity declaration. In fact, the two are different.

If you have been arrested for a crime, David M. Boertje is a San Diego criminal defense attorney who can help you fight your charges and secure the best possible outcome. David M. Boertje’s goal is always to have your charges dropped and your case dismissed. When that is not possible, finding ways to get your charges reduced and keeping you out of jail is the next approach. Potentially, your case may benefit from asking a judge to declare you incompetent to stand trial or you may be able to go to trial and use the insanity defense.

What is the Difference Between an Insanity Plea and Being Declared Incompetent to Stand Trial?

Being declared incompetent to stand trial will halt the defendant’s legal proceedings. During the time the trial date is delayed, the defendant will receive therapy and mental health treatment to help them restore competency. Mental competency is not a defense strategy as it has nothing to do with your state of mind when you allegedly committed the crime. If you are declared incompetent this will only affect your ability to withstand legal proceedings.

By contrast, arguing you are insane or that you have a diminished capacity at the time of the crime will be something that occurs during your trial. This is a defense strategy that speaks to the state of your mind during the commission of your alleged crime. If it is proven that you did not know what you were doing when the alleged crime took place or that you did not know your actions were immoral and inappropriate, your declaration of insanity may be accepted.

If this is the verdict, you cannot be held legally accountable for your actions and your penalties will be adjusted accordingly. This likely means the defendant defendant would be ordered to spend time in a state mental hospital instead of prison. The defendant will then undergo rehabilitation at this facility until the treating physicians feel the defendant has regained sanity or the equivalent term of imprisonment has run.

Sometimes it makes sense to be declared incompetent to stand trial but in other situations, it is not. If you have a strong case to make that undeniably shows that you had a diminished capacity at the time of the alleged crime, you would want to go to trial and prove your assertions. If you make your case, you may be able to return to your life outside of the criminal justice system in California. 

In comparison, you may be held in a mental health institution for a very long time while you are being treated and evaluated for competency to stand trial. If you do have a valid claim to make about your mental state when you committed the crime, you will be at the mercy of the psychiatric institution to determine when and if you can make your case. If you are found competent and you cannot make the case of insanity, then you are essentially delaying the inevitable. On the other hand, being declared incompetent may be a part of your strategy for supporting insanity claims. 

Speak to a San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney

When considering strategies that involve mental capacity and crime working with an experienced California criminal defense attorney is a must. Call David M. Boertje, a San Diego criminal defense lawyer for a free consultation at (619) 229-1870 for his San Diego office or (760) 476-0901 for his Carlsbad location.

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