New Jersey Court Discusses Competency to Stand Trial in Criminal Matters

In New Jersey, if a criminal defendant lacks the ability to understand the crimes the State alleges the defendant committed or the consequences he or she faces if convicted, the defendant may be held unfit to stand trial. When a defendant’s competency is questioned the State must prove numerous factors for the defendant to be found competent, as discussed in a recent New Jersey case in which the defendant was charged with kidnapping and attempted sexual assault. If you are charged with kidnapping or a crime of violence, it is wise to meet with a knowledgeable New Jersey criminal defense attorney to analyze your potential defenses.

The Alleged Crime

It is reported that the defendant was charged with kidnapping and attempted aggravated sexual assault. The defendant had a competency hearing, after which he was found competent to stand trial. Shortly prior to trial, however, he struck his head and began exhibiting concerning behavior. The defendant’s attorney requested a second competency hearing, but the request was denied. A jury convicted the defendant, after which he appealed arguing, in part, that the court erred in denying the second competency hearing.

Competency to Withstand Trial Under New Jersey Law

Under New Jersey law, if a defendant lacks the capacity to understand criminal proceedings against the person, or to assist in his or her own defense, the defendant cannot be tried, convicted, or sentenced, during the time the incapacity exists. As such, a competency hearing must be held when evidence is produced that raises a bona fide question as to a defendant’s competence.

In order for a defendant to be deemed competent to stand trial, the State must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant has the mental capacity to appreciate his or her relation to things, space, and time, and that the defendant’s mental processes are sufficient to allow the defendant to appreciate that he or she is charged with a crime, a judge is on the bench, and an attorney for the State will try to convict the defendant.

The State must also show that the defendant understands that an attorney is defending the defendant and that the defendant has the right not to testify but must tell the truth if he or she chooses to testify, and the defendant has the ability to adequately participate in his or her defense. Finally, the State must show that the defendant understands that a jury may decide the defendant’s guilt or innocence, and the consequences of a guilty plea. Essentially, the determination of whether a defendant is competent to stand trial is a determination of whether the defendant understands his or her position and can intelligently consult with his or her attorney in preparing a defense. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendant a second competency hearing. As such, the appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

Discuss Your Charges with an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defendants have many rights, including the right to avoid a trial if they lack the capacity to understand the proceedings. If you are charged with a sexual offense or other crime, the criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall can advise you of your rights and help you to fight for a fair trial and a favorable outcome. You can contact us through our online form or at 877-450-8301 to schedule a meeting to discuss your charges.

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