Friday, June 04, 2010

Maxwell v. Roe (9th Cir. - May 20, 2010)

You've got to have a competency hearing whenever there's any "bona fide doubt" regarding whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. Here's what happens to Clifton Maxwell:

"At the time of trial, Maxwell had a history of mental illness, frequently refused to take his prescribed antipsychotic medications, was unable to verbally or physically control himself in the courtroom, and exhibited increasingly paranoid and psychotic behavior that impaired his communication with defense counsel and reasoning regarding his defense. Furthermore, during the trial, Maxwell attempted suicide and spent a substantial portion of the trial involuntarily committed to a hospital psychiatric ward. Despite these circumstances, the trial judge never doubted Maxwell’s competence."

Uh oh. That doesn't sound good.

Even if Maxwell was indeed malingering, he's pretty good at it. The suicide attempt alone shows he's at least committed to the charade. And, as you might imagine, the Ninth Circuit holds that, notwithstanding the evidentiary findings below, there was indeed a "bona fide" doubt regarding Maxwell's competence.

So a word to the wise: Give 'em a hearing. Make factual findings. Avoid a retrospective view 11 years later on whether there was a "bona fide doubt" or not.