Thanks to the News-press.com and Mary Wozniak (@wozisme) for the shout out for Crimcourts in their Robert Dunn article today. Yesterday, after Dunn’s attorney’s rested their case, they got in a dispute with him as he decided that he wanted to enter a guilty plea prior to closing arguments. His attorney’s adamantly disagreed with this strategy, as he would have nothing to gain: he would still be facing a death penalty phase of the trial, whereas there is always the possibility of the jury finding him guilty of a lesser charge, or even not guilty. He had nothing to lose at this point by letting the jury render a verdict as to the guilt phase of the trial.
After some deliberation with his client, Dunn’s attorney David Brener determined that he had sufficient doubt about whether or not his client remained competent to stand trial. It is the duty of an attorney to request a review of their client’s competency when such an issue arises, and Brener brought it to the court. Judge Margaret Steinbeck ordered an evaluation to be conducted. As I said in the paper, I don’t believe this is trickery on behalf of the Defense team. Nobody involved in the trial wants to spend the energy and effort exhausted so far to strike it and start over again. The attorneys have a duty to report such issues to the court and seek an expert evaluation to determine if the client is possible: otherwise the verdict would be for naught, anyway.
This evaluation does not go to the Defendant’s guilt or innocence. A competency evaluation is for the purposes of determining whether a defendant has the mental capacity to appreciate what is going on, and to participate meaningfully in his defense. Ms. Wozniak asked if it is unusual for such a motion to be filed at this stage of a trial. While it is rare that such a motion gets filed right before the case goes to the jury, it is not unusual for the issue to arise at any stage in a criminal proceeding. The attorneys and the judge are proceeding cautiously to preserve an appropriate record and maintain the validity of the proceedings. The experts will determine whether Mr. Dunn is sufficiently competent for his trial to proceed at this time. There have been previous indications of issues concerning Mr. Dunn’s mental health, as I have mentioned previously on Crimcourts, so this motion is not entirely out of the blue.
Also, keep in mind this is different from insanity evaluation. Doctors will try to determine if the defendant is presently able to stand trial, not whether he was insane at the time of the offense. Regardless of their finding, this won’t make his charges go away or let him loose. If he’s found incompetent, he will still face charges at a later time, once his competence is restored. #robertdunn
UPDATE: Just to demonstrate the problem with mental health issues, another Lee County client who was set to being trial this morning also had a competency evaluation ordered.
Dunn’s case is set for a review next week to see if the trial can proceed.