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Allegations of Child Pornography and the Issue of Competency to Stand Trial Collide in 9th Circuit Ruling

Posted by Seth Chazin | May 29, 2014 | 0 Comments

Defendant Albert Garza was charged in federal court with one count of distribution of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography (18 U.S.C. 2251-2260). ; Citizen's Guide . Also see CA Penal Code 311.11 etc . His lawyer initially asserted to the court that Garza was not competent to stand trial in that he did not have the mental capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings and assist his counsel in his defense. See 18 USC 4247 . A defendant that “lacks the capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his defense may not be subjected to a trial.” Drope v. Missouri . Also, “the failure to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant's right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial h deprives him of his due process right to fair trial. Pate v. Robinson Garza's attorney initially hired a psychologist who prepared a competency report which stated that Garza had anxiety and dementia caused by uncontrolled diabetes. Garza was then sent to the Bureau of Prisons for an evaluation and Dr. Lisa Hope agreed that he was suffering from anxiety, but found that there were no signs of dementia and that he was competent to stand trial. At trial, Garza testified that he was mentally disabled and complained that his diabetes was “eating away his brain.” Garza explained that he did not understand what the proceedings were about, yet defense counsel did not move to declare Garza incompetent. Garza was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The district court believed that Garza had been malingering (pretending) to act incompetent to avoid going to trial.

Justice Tallman of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that no reasonable judge would have believed that Garza was incompetent to stand trial in that there was not sufficient evidence to entertain a belief that Garza did not understand the nature of the charges nor could assist in his own defense. Based on his medical history, behavior in and out of trial, and defense counsel's statements, Justice Tallman found that the evidence did not reveal a defendant incapable of understanding the nature of the proceedings. The 9th Circuit opinion also rejected the defense argument that the district court must sua sponte (on its own)  initiate competency proceedings under these circumstances.

This ruling has significant implications for any defendant who has mental health issues, latent or otherwise.

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About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson