CRIMINAL: Competency to Stand Trial (experts fees; “marginally competent”) — COMMONWEALTH OF KY. v. DEANNA GAYLE WOOTEN (SC 11/26/2008)

CRIMINAL:  Competency to Stand Trial (experts fees;  "marginally
OPINION BY SCHRODER (Scott concurs by separate op. in which Abramson joins)
DATE RENDERED: 11/26/2008

This is an appeal by the Commonwealth from orders of the Bracken Circuit Court relative to the court's determination that Deanna Wooten was incompetent to stand trial on two counts of first-degree criminal abuse. SC rejected the Commonwealth's arguments that the trial court erred in allowing funding for an independent defense expert for evaluation of Deanna's competency, in allowing that expert to testify at the competency hearing, and in denying a motion for a more specific report by that expert. In light of the evidence that Deanna could not participate rationally in her own defense, SC adjudged that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Deanna incompetent to stand trial. In order to hire a state-funded private psychologist, the defendant must make the requisite showing that the state facilities were unavailable or that the use of state facilities would be impractical. The defendant must also demonstrate that the desired expert assistance is "reasonably necessary." Because the order for funding was obtained ex parte in this case, the record is not clear whether a hearing was held on the reasonable necessity of a private expert or the impracticality or unavailability of state facilities. Given the court's findings above, SC presumed that Deanna made a sufficient showing of unavailability of state services and of reasonable necessity for the hiring of Dr. Pack to support the trial court's order.

KRS 504.100(2) provides "the report of the psychologist or psychiatrist shall state whether or not he finds the defendant incompetent to stand trial." SC stated, "we would agree that the language of subsection (2) requires a specific finding of competency. However, in reading the statute as a whole, we believe the requirements of specificity in subsection (2) apply only to the report of the court-appointed neutral expert, and not to the defendant's independent expert. The language of subsection (2) is clearly in reference to the court-appointed psychologist or psychiatrist in subsection (1), and applies to the report from that examiner, who is working for the court and not the defense or the prosecution. Hence, the lower court did not err in denying the motion for a more specific report by Dr. Pack."

Competency determinations are made based on a preponderance of the evidence standard. In light of all the evidence of Deanna"s mental impairments and limitations, trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding Deanna incompetent to stand trial. Notwithstanding the experts' conclusions that Deanna was competent or marginally competent to stand trial, there was substantial evidence presented of Deanna's inability to participate rationally in her own defense.

Digested by Scott C. Byrd 

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