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Hernandez v. State

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

June 20, 2018

Sergio M. Hernandez, III, Appellant,
v.
The State of Florida, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Monroe County, Lower Tribunal No. 14-870-A-K Wayne M. Miller, Judge.

          Carlos J. Martinez, Public Defender, and Shannon Hemmendinger, Assistant Public Defender, for appellant.

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, and David Llanes, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Before EMAS, FERNANDEZ and LINDSEY, JJ.

          EMAS, JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Defendant, Sergio Hernandez, III, appeals from his judgment and sentence for domestic battery by strangulation and false imprisonment. As his sole issue on appeal, Hernandez contends that the trial court committed fundamental error in its determination of Hernandez's competency to proceed. Specifically, Hernandez asserts that the trial court failed to make an independent assessment and independent finding of Hernandez's competency. We agree, and reverse and remand for the trial court to hold a hearing in an effort to make a retrospective determination of Hernandez's competency at the time of trial.

         ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

         A defendant has a due process right to a competency determination when there are reasonable grounds to believe that a defendant is incompetent. Nowitzke v. State, 572 So.2d 1346, 1349 (Fla. 1990) (holding: "Under both Florida and federal law, it is well-settled that due process prohibits a person accused of a crime from being proceeded against while incompetent."); Maxwell v. State, 974 So.2d 505, 509 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008) (holding: "When criminal proceedings are held against a mentally incompetent defendant, the defendant's constitutional right of due process is denied"). See also Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 172 (1975) (holding that the "failure to observe procedures adequate to protect a defendant's right not to be tried or convicted while incompetent to stand trial deprives him of his due process right to a fair trial.").

         Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure 3.210-3.212 establish the procedures to be employed when there is a "reasonable ground to believe that the defendant is not mentally competent to proceed." Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.210(b). When such reasonable grounds exist, the trial court must immediately enter an order setting a hearing to be held within twenty days to determine the defendant's mental condition. The trial court may order the defendant to be examined by no more than three experts. Id. The expert or experts shall conduct a competency examination, and shall consider and include in the competency report those factors enumerated in rule 3.211(a)(2).[1] The expert shall submit a written report to the court, setting forth the procedures, techniques, and tests used in the examination, the observations and findings made, and opinions rendered, by the expert, and the sources of information and factual bases for the expert's clinical findings and opinions. Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.211(c).

         The expert's report may then be considered by the trial court at the competency hearing. In addition to the report or reports, either party or the court may call the experts to testify at the competency hearing, and any such expert is deemed a court witness regardless of whether the expert is called by a party or by the court. Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.212(a). If the court finds the defendant competent to proceed, the court shall enter its order so finding.

         At the competency hearing in the instant case, no testimony was taken and no evidence was offered. The parties merely stipulated to the expert's written report; that is, the parties agreed that, if called to testify at the hearing, the expert would testify consistently with his written report. ...


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