Committed defendant can be charged

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and remanded a pre-trial motion to dismiss a pending felony criminal recklessness charge against a defendant, ruling the length of time incompetent defendants are committed to a mental health institution does not allow for dismissal of charges.

In State of Indiana v. Charlene Davis, 49A02-0706-CR-545, the state argued the trial court did not have the legal authority to dismiss a Class D felony criminal recklessness charge against Davis. Davis was found to be incompetent to stand trial in May 2004 and was ordered to be committed to a Department of Mental Health psychiatric institution. Pursuant to Indiana Code 35-36-3-3(a), the superintendent of the state institution where the defendant is placed is required to certify to the trial court whether there is a substantial probability the defendant will become competent within the foreseeable future. The superintendent where Davis was placed wrote to the trial court Davis had not attained competency to stand trial and filed a petition for Davis' civil involuntary commitment. She was committed in September 2004 in Evansville.

In August 2005, Davis was evaluated again for competency to stand trial and still lacked competency. She was later transferred to Larue Carter Memorial Hospital; in March 2007, the chief medical officer at Larue Carter wrote to the trial court that in her opinion, Davis could not be restored to competency. As a result, Davis' counsel filed a motion to dismiss the felony charge because she had been involuntarily committed for longer than the maximum sentence for the charged crime. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss.

Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote the Indiana statutes for commitment during a criminal proceeding do not mention any procedure regarding pending criminal charges once a defendant is committed based on statute. The state argued this lack of statutory instruction does not allow the trial court to dismiss the charges over the state's objection.

Davis' counsel cited Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 717 (1972) in allowing the trial court to dismiss the charge. The U.S. Supreme Court held in the case a defendant charged by a state with a criminal offense who is committed solely because of incapacity to proceed with the trial can't be held for more than "the reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is substantial probability that he will attain that capacity in the foreseeable future."

Davis' attorneys argued allowing charges to remain pending against a defendant who has been found incompetent violates due process, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not address that issue in Jackson, wrote Judge Bailey. Davis' charge was not dismissed because of due process; it was dismissed because she had been committed for longer than the maximum sentence for the crime.

The court found no authority for equating time in civil involuntary commitment to credit for time served for pending criminal charges.

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