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Louisiana murder defendant found competent. What does that mean?

A Baton Rouge judge has found that a 30-year-old man who has been accused of killing his grandfather is competent to stand trial, so his case will proceed as scheduled Dec. 2.

We wanted to use this post to discuss what "competent" means because it is a concept that is not always clearly understood.

Before we do that, here's a little background on this case. The man is accused of killing his 76-year-old grandfather in 2009, setting the grandfather's house on fire to conceal the evidence and then attempting to flee the state. He has been charged with first-degree murder.

According to one report, the man told a court-appointed psychiatrist that he intended to answer the psychiatrist's questions incorrectly so that he could be found incompetent. The psychiatrist reported this back to the court.

Now, some people are under the mistaken impression that "incompetent" means you are insane or mentally disabled. The conventional wisdom then seems to hold that if you're found "incompetent," you cannot possibly be found guilty.

This isn't quite true.

If a criminal defendant is "competent," that means he or she has the ability to stand trial because he or she understands the charges against him or her,can meaningfully assist his or her counsel and can participate in his or her defense. In other words, this is not a very high standard to meet.

In some circumstances, mentally disabled people or people with mental conditions are not competent, because their mental state does not enable them to understand what they're being charged with or help their attorneys arrange a defense, but just having a mental condition does not mean you are automatically incompetent.

If someone is found "incompetent," he or she cannot go forward with a trial, but it is not as though he or she simply gets to go free. Oftentimes, that person is committed to a facility that can care for people like him or her. This commitment lasts for as long as the individual is deemed incompetent.

Sources:

For more information, you might consider visiting our Criminal Law page.

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

Joshua S. Guillory

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