Thursday, October 3, 2013

Must Defense Attorney Raise Client Competency Issue With The Court?

The denial of a collateral attack on a first-degree murder conviction was affirmed by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in light of the trial court's ruling that the defendant was not prejudiced by the putative error of his attorneys.

Prior to trial, a psychologist evaluated the client and opined to counsel that he was not competent to stand trial.

The attorneys "discounted the significance of that opinion and, after consulting with the client, chose not to raise the issue of his competency with the court."

After conviction at trial, the client moved to vacate the conviction on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to raise the competency issue.

The trial court found "no reasonable probability that [the defendant] actually would have been found incompetent."

A second hearing was held by the trial court at which conflicting testimony from medical professionals was received. The trial court adhered to its earlier ruling and the defendant appealed.

The court here declined to adopt a bright-line rule of deficient performance and a presumption of prejudice.

While the court considered it a "close question whether [the] attorneys were obligated to bring the issue of his competency to the court's attention prior to trial" it did not decide the issue in light of the finding of no prejudice. (Mike Frisch)

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