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Defendants entitled to competency hearing in probation revocations

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Defendants are entitled to a competency hearing as part of their due process rights, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today, addressing the issue for the first time.

Daniel Donald argued the trial court shouldn’t have denied his request for a competency evaluation prior to his probation revocation hearing. Donald is a diabetic and had suffered a stroke, which left him with memory loss and speech, reading, and writing impairments. He was serving part of a home detention sentence following his guilty plea to dealing in methamphetamine.

A surveillance officer who came to his home for a urine sample saw Donald acting strangely in the yard, where he urinated in his underwear for the sample. The officer discovered Donald had a rubber glove in his underwear. When confronted about it, Donald took off, ran around the home, grabbed a shotgun, and ran into the woods by his home. When he was coaxed out of the woods, Donald admitted to taking methamphetamine.

Donald’s attorney requested a competency evaluation based on Indiana Code Section 35-36-3-1(a) because he didn’t think Donald could understand and help in the revocation proceedings.

The trial court ruled Donald did not have standing to ask for a competency evaluation under that statute because his request did not deal with competency to stand trial, and it also found that the request was untimely. His probation was revoked and Donald was ordered to serve his sentence in the Department of Correction.

In Daniel A. Donald v. State of Indiana, No. 23A04-0912-CR-685, the appellate court agreed Donald didn’t have a statutory right to a competency hearing because he wasn’t standing trial, but the Due Process Clause requires that a defendant be competent when participating in a probation-revocation hearing.

The judges looked to other jurisdictions, including appeals courts in Florida and Ohio, and adopted those cases’ reasoning on why defendants in Donald’s situation are entitled to a competency hearing. Probation revocation hearings are similar to criminal proceedings in that the defendant’s liberty is at stake and the defendant’s ability to help in the hearing may determine the outcome.

“Without competency, the minimal due process rights guaranteed to probationers at probation revocation hearings would be rendered useless,” wrote Judge Terry Crone.

Since the trial court denied Donald’s request based on its belief it didn’t have standing, the issue of whether or not reasonable grounds existed to order a competency evaluation wasn’t addressed. The issue was remanded for the trial court to address.  
 

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