Two Preliminary Hearings Rule - Incompetent Defendant
Proposition 115 was passed for the purpose of streamlining the criminal justice system. (Whitman v. Superior Court (1991) 54 Cal. 3d 1063, 1075 2 Cal. Rptr. 2d 160, 820 P.2d 262).
One of its effects has been to limit the preliminary hearing to the single issue of the existence of probable cause. ( Id. at p. 1079.) the right to cross-examine witnesses has been significantly restricted and the introduction of hearsay is now permitted. (Id. at p. 1076).
"The person is entitled to a new preliminary hearing after restoration of competency because the first hearing was conducted when the defendant was unable to understand the proceedings and cooperate with counsel. This bill retains the two hearing option only if the defendant's counsel so requests."
(Assem. Com. on Criminal Justice, Rep. on Assem. Bill No. 3721 (1981-1982 Reg. Sess.) May 3, 1982, p. 2, italics added.) "The purpose of this bill is to economize court procedures regarding competency hearings for persons charged with felonies." (Sen. Com. on Judiciary, Analysis of Assem. Bill No. 3721 (1981-1982 Reg. Sess).
The State Public Defender's office withdrew its opposition and the bill was passed by a unanimous vote.
Despite these changes, a defendant has fundamental statutory and constitutional rights to be present at his preliminary hearing and to be afforded the right to counsel. ( 977; Cal. Const., art. I, 14, 15; People v. Holt (1997) 15 Cal. 4th 619, 706 63 Cal. Rptr. 2d 782, 937 P.2d 213).
These rights are denied if a defendant is incompetent. "Counsel cannot effectively represent a client who does not understand the nature of the charges against him or who is unable to cooperate in his defense." (Chambers v. Municipal Court, supra, 43 Cal. App. 3d at p. 813; Booth v. Superior Court, supra, 57 Cal. App. 4th 91, 97; Bayramoglu v. Superior Court, supra, 124 Cal. App. 3d at p. 726).
While the statute created additional protection for an incompetent defendant, it raised another due process issue. Where a doubt has arisen as to a defendant's competence before the preliminary hearing, it was arguably a violation of due process to nevertheless compel him to go forward with the proceeding. (Hale v. Superior Court (1975) 15 Cal. 3d 221, 223 124 Cal. Rptr. 57, 539 P.2d 817).
The Supreme Court resolved this dilemma by holding that a defendant whose information was dismissed due to his incompetency would be provided with a second preliminary hearing once his competence was restored. Thus, a defendant would only be brought to trial after he was lawfully bound over. (Ibid.)
This became known as the "two preliminary hearings" rule.