A recent decision by the California Supreme Court Verdin v. Superior Court, wrestled with the issue of "diminished actuality" or "diminished capacity." This describes an individual's mental capacity as it pertains to the ability to have the mental will to commit a crime. This term can be used by the defense in order to protect an accused individual if s/he does not have the mental capacity to stand trial.
The major issue was whether a defendant can be forced to undergo a mental examination requested by the prosecution. In this particular case, the defendant attacked his wife and daughter and was found by the police sitting naked on his front porch, claiming he'd killed his daughter. Thankfully his wife and daughter were alive, although they'd been beaten and a firearm had been discharged during the fray.
In the past, if a defense attorney claimed his/her client was mentally impaired, or suffered from "diminished actuality," the prosecution would seek and successful obtain a court order requiring the accused to undergo a mental examination, to be conducted by an expert of the prosecution's choosing. Obviously, a forced exam raises the issue of constitutional protections, and exsposed the system's has major flaws. Many cases supported the court's right to allow the prosecution to test the defendant as the prosecution saw fit.
However, in the above mentioned case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the trial court could no longer make such an order. It limited the trial court's powers, stating it only has the right to order discover motions explicitly stated in Penal Code section 1054.3. This is an important ruling in criminal defense, as it gives California attorneys greater flexibility to serve their clients, and justice, in defending those individuals whose mental capacity may be in question. While this specific decision only applies to pre-trial testing, it may spread to mid-trial or post trial testing as well. That has yet to be decided, however it does mean that defense attorneys have an increased ability to defend their clients.
Tagged as: federal law and defense
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