April 29, 2009
Client In Coma Requires Mistrial
A trial court improperly denied defense counsel's motion for a mistrial after his client had attempted to commit suicide and had been hospitalized in a coma. The trial on child rape and molestation charges was going into a third day when the suicide attempt took place. The Washington State Court of Appeals, Division II held as follows:
Anene was clearly unable to assist in his own defense since he was not present and was unconscious in the hospital. There was no need for a competency evaluation because it was clear that Anene was incompetent to stand trial due to his inability to assist in his own defense. See Hahn, 106 Wn.2d at 895. Therefore, the trial court's decision to proceed with the trial in Anene's absence clearly violated Anene's due process rights. We hold that the trial court erred in proceeding with the trial when faced with Anene's obvious incompetence. We reverse his conviction and remand for a new trial.
Notably, the prosecutor had commented in closing argument about the defendant's absence:
Now, there's one glaring thing that we can't ignore. And that's where is Mr. Anene? Certainly sitting here you must have noticed that he's gone and he is not here. And in noticing that he's gone and is not here when he has appeared for he first part of the trial, you can consider whether or not his absence is evidence, circumstantial evidence, because we have no direct evidence, but circumstantial evidence of a consciousness of guilt. Where's Mr. Anene?
The prosecutor well knew where the defendant was. (Mike Frisch)
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