Criminal Competency legislation passes Legislature
AUSTIN - Legislation from Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, to overhaul the state's criminal competency law is on its way to the Governor's desk.
Senate Bill 1057 ensures all defendants who may be incompetent to stand trial are treated equally and fairly. This bill develops an efficient system to handle mentally incompetent offenders by implementing a number of recommendations suggested after significant study during the 77th interim.
The Texas House of Representatives passed the Senate bill this morning. SB1057 had passed the Senate on April 15.
During the 77th Legislature, Senate Bill 553 was passed to create a 16-member task force charged with the review of statutes and practices that establish whether a criminal defendant is competent to stand trial.
Key provisions of the bill:
I. Incompetence is determined if a defendant doesn't meet the standards set by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Dusky (This is not a change from current law):
- sufficient ability to consult with the defense attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
- a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings
II. Any party or the court, may raise the question of competency. If the issue arises, the court may order an competency evaluation.
The bill outlines the qualifications for experts who may provide the examinations and the factors those experts must consider and report.
Once the evaluation has been completed, a hearing is held to determine if the defendant is competent to stand trial. Under current law, a jury must make this initial determination. Under the bill, either party may request a jury, but a jury is not mandatory. Upon a finding of incompetence, the defendant may be committed for up to 120 days (with one possible 60-day extension) for treatment to restore the defendant to competency.
III. The bill also streamlines the procedure for any extended commitment at a mental health facility if the defendant cannot be restored within the 120-day period.
IV. A provision to the statute outlines a due process procedure in which a defendant - who has been restored to competency, but refuses to take medication - can be forced to do so.
During the 77th interim, Duncan was co-chairman with former Rep. Patty Gray, D-Galveston, of a 16-member task force charged with studying the practice of determining whether a criminal defendant is competent for trial. The task force found the current criminal competency statute is complex, confusing and difficult to use.
"I am proud of the task force's work on this legislation that corrects a complex and confusing system," Duncan said. "These efforts will pay off greatly toward improving the criminal justice system in Texas. In forwarding this legislation to Governor Perry, the Legislature has made great strides toward ensuring an efficient and fair process to determine whether those accused of a crime can aid in their own defense."
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