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Justices address incompetent defendants in 2 cases

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The Indiana Supreme Court handed down two opinions Tuesday in which the defendants, who were found to be incompetent at some point, argued that pending charges violated their rights to due process on fundamental-fairness grounds.

In Alva Curtis v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-1010-CR-620, Alva Curtis appealed the denial of his September 2009 motion to dismiss and discharge under Indiana Criminal Rule 4(C). He was charged June 28, 2007, with residential entry, battery, and criminal mischief. Curtis has a developmental disability and is unable to read. He was held for 29 days and later released. His competency was evaluated, with doctors saying he would likely never be restored to competency. He was never committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction and the trial court never made a finding that he was unlikely to regain competency, although it stated he would never become competent.

On interlocutory appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the pending criminal charges violated his right to due process and ordered the charging information dismissed. Curtis also raised constitutional speedy-trial claims in his appellate brief, but the COA didn’t address that claim or his Criminal Rule 4(C) issues.

The justices ruled Curtis forfeited his constitutional speedy-trial claims because he raised them for the first time on appeal, but they did find he is entitled to discharge under Criminal Rule 4(C) because he was held longer than one year on the charges after the justices took into account the delays attributable to Curtis.

The high court also addressed his due process argument and found the COA erred in ordering dismissal based on fundamental-fairness grounds. Using State v. Davis, 898 N.E.2d 281 (Ind. 2008), to support their decision, the justices noted that in the instant case, there was no proper finding that Curtis will never be restored to competency. Also, Curtis was never found to be incompetent under Indiana Code 35-36-3-1 nor has he been committed by the trial court.

“Those two facts alone take Curtis’s case outside the parameters of a due process violation,” wrote Justice Steven David.

In a companion opinion, Douglas Denzell v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-1106-CR-340, the high court agreed with the COA that pending charges against Denzell do not violate his right to due process. Denzell, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was charged with misdemeanors resisting law enforcement and public intoxication after refusing to leave a bar. He was found incompetent to stand trial and committed to the Division of Mental Health and Addiction, but was later sent to a hospital. In order to avoid trial, Denzell would stop taking his medication after he was considered restored to competency. The trial court later entered a commitment order.

Denzell wanted his charges dismissed, arguing he had already served the maximum imposable sentence for his charges. The trial court denied the motion. The justices noted that Denzell can be restored to competency but sabotages that process by not taking his medication.

“It would be counterintuitive to allow a defendant to assert a due process violation based on incompetency if the defendant himself purposely decompensated to avoid going to court” so he doesn’t have a viable fundamental-fairness argument, wrote Justice David.

As they noted in Curtis, the justices emphasized that there may be factual scenarios that differ from Davis and other relevant precedent that still fall within the parameters of a due process violation, but Denzell’s case is not one of them.
 

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