California Welfare and Institutions Code Section 709 - Interpretation

In California juvenile proceedings, Welfare and Institutions Code section 709 governs competency determinations and provides, in relevant part: "(a) During the pendency of any juvenile proceeding, the minor's counsel or the court may express a doubt as to the minor's competency. A minor is incompetent to proceed if he or she lacks sufficient present ability to consult with counsel and assist in preparing his or her defense with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, or lacks a rational as well as factual understanding, of the nature of the charges or proceedings against him or her. If the court finds substantial evidence raises a doubt as to the minor's competency, the proceedings shall be suspended. (b) Upon suspension of proceedings, the court shall order that the question of the minor's competence be determined at a hearing. The court shall appoint an expert to evaluate whether the minor suffers from a mental disorder, developmental disability, developmental immaturity, or other condition and, if so, whether the condition or conditions impair the minor's competency. The expert shall have expertise in child and adolescent development, and training in the forensic evaluation of juveniles, and shall be familiar with competency standards and accepted criteria used in evaluating competence. The Judicial Council shall develop and adopt rules for the implementation of these requirements." Incompetency must be established by a preponderance of the evidence. ( 709, subd. (c).) Section 709 makes no provision for a court to withdraw its order suspending proceedings so that the minor's competency can be determined at a hearing with input from an expert.