Competency Hearing Washington State

In Washington "no incompetent person shall be tried, convicted, or sentenced for the commission of an offense so long as such incapacity continues." RCW 10.77.050. "Incompetency" exists where a person "lacks the capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings against him or her or to assist in his or her own defense as a result of mental disease or defect." RCW 10.77.010(14). According to the controlling statute, where there is reason to doubt a defendant's competency the trial court must appoint experts and order a formal competency hearing: Whenever a defendant has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, or there is reason to doubt his or her competency, the court on its own motion or on the motion of any party shall either appoint or request the secretary to designate at least two qualified experts or professional persons, one of whom shall be approved by the prosecuting attorney, to examine and report upon the mental condition of the defendant. RCW 10.77.060(1)(a). The statute mandates at least two court appointed experts must examine and prepare a report on the mental condition of the defendant, including: (a) A description of the nature of the examination; (b) A diagnosis of the mental condition of the defendant; (c) If the defendant suffers from a mental disease or defect, or is developmentally disabled, an opinion as to competency; (d) If the defendant has indicated his or her intention to rely on the defense of insanity pursuant to RCW 10.77.030, an opinion as to the defendant's sanity at the time of the act; (e) When directed by the court, an opinion as to the capacity of the defendant to have a particular state of mind which is an element of the offense charged; (f) An opinion as to whether the defendant should be evaluated by a county designated mental health professional under chapter 71.05 RCW, and an opinion as to whether the defendant is a substantial danger to other persons, or presents a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security, unless kept under further control by the court or other persons or institutions. RCW 10.77.060(3). This competency hearing is mandatory whenever a legitimate question of competency arises: Procedures of the competency statute (chapter 10.77 RCW) are mandatory and not merely directory. State v. Wicklund, 96 Wn.2d 798, 805, 638 P.2d 1241 (1982). "Thus, once there is a reason to doubt a defendant's competency, the court must follow the statute to determine his or her competency to stand trial." City of Seattle v. Gordon, 39 Wn. App. 437, 441, 693 P.2d 741 (1985). Failure to observe procedures adequate to protect an accused's right not to be tried while incompetent to stand trial is a denial of due process. State v. O'Neal, 23 Wn. App. 899, 901, 600 P.2d 570 (1979) (citing Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 43 L. Ed. 2d 103, 95 S. Ct. 896, 420 U.S. 162, 95 S.Ct. 896, 43 L.Ed. 2d 103 (1975); Pate v. Robinson, 383 U.S. 375, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815, 86 S. Ct. 836, 383 U.S. 375, 86 S. Ct. 836, 15 L. Ed. 2d 815 (1966)).