Easley Criminal Defense Lawyer
The experienced Easley, SC criminal defense attorneys at Brumback & Langley handles criminal defense cases for a wide variety of clients, and a common question raised is that of fitness to stand trial. Defendants with mental illness, special needs, and intellectual disabilities sometimes cannot distinguish between right and wrong, even though they may be functioning more or less normally in society. Impulsivity issues, lack of self-control, and other such effects can result in an innocent person committing a terrible deed with no ill-intent.
While the issues associated with mental illness are entirely different from issues of intellectual disability, the court procedures determining fitness to stand trial in a criminal defense case in Easley, SC are fairly similar.
How Does a Criminal Defense Lawyer in Easley, SC Work with Clients with Special Needs?
If you are currently reading this, then you may be connected to a defendant who has special needs. The answer to this question varies from client to client, and criminal defense lawyer in Easley, SC will depend upon you to educate them as to the level of understanding the client has. If there are specific phrases or terms we should use, or avoid, when speaking to the defendant, please let us know. The ultimate goal of any criminal defense lawyer in Easley, SC is to defend the charges with the highest possibility of success, we are also mindful of the mental well-being of our clients. We want our clients to understand as much of what is happening as possible while working hard to avoid doing any damage to their self-esteem or mental state.
Another issue in criminal defense cases is the issue of decision making. In the case that a defendant does not understand that they have done something wrong, how is the defendant expected to make sound decisions regarding the case? In these situations, we need parents, guardians, or caretakers to step in to hear our guidance. We’ll help make sure you have the legal authority to make decisions if you do not already have it. Then, you can make decisions together with your criminal defense attorney in Easley, SC in the best interests of the defendant.
Determining Whether a Defendant is Fit to Stand Trial in a Criminal Defense Case in Easley SC
In order to best determine whether a person is fit to stand trial in a criminal defense case in South Carolina while working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in Easley SC, there should be a finding of incompetency. Your criminal defense attorney will often begin this process themselves to ensure that it is done properly, but a judge sometimes initiates the process. During the process, the examination performed depends upon the nature of the defendant’s disability. In the instance of a mental illness, two examiners representing the Department of Mental Health are used. In the case of intellectual disability, the Department of Disabilities and Special Needs is utilized. Observation may be ordered for a period of up to 15 days, with the option to extend this period as necessary, may be necessary in some cases.
Even in the case that an examination is ordered by the court, your criminal defense lawyer in Easley SC may request to have additional examinations performed by an independent third party. In this case, however, the court may place restrictions on the time and conditions of the independent examination, so in some cases it may be advisable to proceed with an exam early in the case before the court becomes involved, so that your criminal defense lawyer in Easley, SC can attempt to come to an agreement with the prosecution.
Upon completion of the exam, the reports are reviewed by the court. The report will include relevant diagnoses for any conditions, as well as clinical findings related to the question of whether the defendant is capable of comprehending the proceedings of the court. After the review, the court will make a decision, and will decide on one of the following:
- The defendant is fit to stand trial, and the criminal defense case will proceed as normal.
- The defendant is not fit to stand trial, at which time the prosecution will initiate judicial proceedings in Probate Court. At this time, the court may order the defendant to be hospitalized, detained, or remain free on bond.
- The defendant is not fit to stand trial, but will likely be fit within the near future, and will request the defendant to be hospitalized for a period of up to 60 days, after which the issue will be revisited.
In the event that the defendant is determined to be not fit to stand trial, that status may be subject to reexamination every six months.
When a Criminal Defendant is Determined to be Competent to Stand Trial in an Easley, SC Criminal Defense Case
In the case that a defendant is determined to be fit to stand trial, then your criminal defense lawyer in Easley SC will have to defend the charge as best they can, despite the likely barriers to communication that will exist. On occasion, a probate court will find that a defendant is not competent to manage their own affairs, while a criminal court will find the same person fit to stand trial in a criminal case. As experienced criminal defense attorneys in Easley, South Carolina, if we can possibly beat the charge, then we will work hard to do that. However, in the case that the evidence is not favorable to our case, it could be the case that a plea bargain is the best option. In this instance, or if the defendant is actually convicted at the trial’s conclusion, then the sentencing phase begins.
During the sentencing, the judge will determine a reasonable punishment for a convicted person. A conviction generally arrives after a guilty plea, or because a jury returns a guilty verdict. At the sentencing, your criminal defense lawyer in Easley, SC will be able to present evidence to support the character of the defendant, such as prior criminal record, mitigating circumstances, remorse, rehabilitation possibilities, and any other factors. In other words, we will use every fact at our disposal as criminal defense attorneys in Easley, SC, to argue that the defendant does not deserve to be sentenced as harshly as others who may have committed the same crime. A guilty verdict does not mean the fight is over.
At the sentencing, your criminal defense attorneys may introduce new evidence in order to support your case. Your attorney may ask for additional witnesses to come to the sentencing hearing, either to speak or simply to be present. At this hearing, hearsay evidence may be used as well, so this list could include family, friends, teachers, doctors, counselors, or anyone else who may be able to support the defendant and defend their character. Your criminal defense lawyer will likely ask you to compile evaluations and other records to reinforce the view that the defendant did not understand what they were doing, or did not comprehend the magnitude of what they were doing when the crime happened. If jail time is a possibility, we will put forth an argument that jail is an extreme punishment for a defendant of this type, and that a probationary sentence would be a more effective sentence. In the end, what precisely is done depends upon the extent of the defendant’s disabilities and capabilities.
When a Defendant in a Criminal Defense Case in Easley, SC is Found to Have an Intellectual Disability or Special Needs
In the case that the defendant is determined to have special needs or some intellectual disability, then either the prosecution or your criminal defense attorneys in Easley, SC will begin proceedings in probate court, or family court in some circumstances, in order to find whether the defendant requires hospitalization or should be otherwise detained. During these proceedings, just as in a criminal case, the defendant has a right to the representation of criminal defense attorneys.
At this hearing, the reports provided by the examiners will be reviewed. If it is the opinion of the court that the person should be placed in a facility or into a service program with DDSN, then the court will order judicial admission or involuntary commitment. The court in these cases has quite a bit of discretion as to what kind of program will be best for the defendant, and appeals of this decision are allowed.
When a Defendant in a Criminal Defense Case in Easley, SC is Found to Be Mentally Ill
In the case that a defendant is determined to be unfit to stand trial by reason of mental illness, the prosecution will then begin the process of obtaining a judicial commitment from the probate court. These proceedings will include a certification from an examiner stating that he or she has examined the defendant, and has determined them to be mentally ill and requiring hospitalization. The defendant, just as in the criminal case, still has a right to representation from criminal defense attorneys during the probate proceedings.
In most cases, the probate court will generally appoint two more examiners, who of whom is a licensed physician, and these examiners will once again make a report on the defendant’s mental condition and necessity of treatment. This may seem to be redundant given the earlier examinations, but remember that the prior exams were to determine the defendant’s competency to stand trial, and not to make an assessment of necessary treatment. The criminal defense attorneys in Easley, SC, may request another independent examination, just as before.
If it is the opinion of the medical examiners that the defendant is not mentally ill and that no involuntary treatment regimen is necessary, then the court will dismiss the case. If two examiners have differing opinions, the judge has the ability to choose to dismiss, or appoint a psychiatrist to be a third examiner, and defer to the majority opinion. If the examiners conclude that commitment is necessary, then a hearing will be scheduled. Together with your criminal defense attorneys in Easley, SC, you can call witnesses at this hearing, including the examiners who may have had favorable opinions on your case.
In the case that the hearing confirms the finding that the defendant is mentally ill and in need of involuntary commitment, then the court will decide whether the defendant lacks the capacity to make treatment decisions for himself or herself and if the defendant is a danger to himself/herself or others. In either of these cases, the court has the ability to order treatment of an inpatient or outpatient variety, in nearly any kind of institution, public or private. This decision may be appealed, and the defendant or another “interested person” like a relative, parent, or guardian may request a reexamination every six months.
If a Defendant is Unfit to Stand Trial, Will Criminal Defense ATTORNEYS in Easley, SC Still Present Evidence?
Even in the case that a defendant is deemed unfit to stand trial, criminal defense attorneys may request the opportunity to put up a defense in court (excluding the insanity defense). If granted, then the evidence for the defense and prosecution will be heard by the judge, but no jury. If the judge decides that it is warranted, the case can at this point be dismissed outright with no need for subsequent proceedings.
if a Mentally Ill or Disabled Family Member is Charged with a Crime?
If you, a family member, your child, or anyone in your immediate family has been charged with a crime, the first step you should take is contacting experienced criminal defense attorneys in Easley, SC as soon as possible. Our criminal defense lawyers will consider the facts of your case, including whether your family member is fit to stand trial, and will advise you as to the best step forward. Contact one of the criminal defense attorneys at the law offices of Brumback & Langley right away to ensure that you have the strongest possible chance of a successful defense.