How JustAnswer Works:
  • Ask an Expert
    Experts are full of valuable knowledge and are ready to help with any question. Credentials confirmed by a Fortune 500 verification firm.
  • Get a Professional Answer
    Via email, text message, or notification as you wait on our site.
    Ask follow up questions if you need to.
  • 100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    Rate the answer you receive.
Ask Len Your Own Question
Len, Lawyer
Category: Criminal Law
Satisfied Customers: 444
Experience:  15 years practice in criminal and employment law.
Type Your Criminal Law Question Here...
Len is online now
A new question is answered every 9 seconds

What is the legal differnece between mentally ill and competent

This answer was rated:

What is the legal differnece between mentally ill and competent? My daughter has been charged with arson and has completed a course of treatment at a State Mentel Institution. They are saying now that she was competent at the time of the act we don't believe she was. They don't deny she had a mental illness (schizophrenia) She has a hearing on Wednesay to withdraw her plea

What you really need to do is ride the defense lawyer to arrange another evaluation. The type needed is called a forensic evaluation. This evaluates here state of mind at the time of the crime. I'm not surprised that the state hospital is saying that she was competent at the time.


Here's the basic difference for your question. Competency refers to the defendant's ability to understand the trial process and be capable of assisting their attorney to prepare and put on a defense at trial. Most mentally ill people can become competent with the right level and type of medication. Obviously some cannot, and depending upon the state, they will either be sent to an institution for treatment, or released.


Schizophrenia is a real problem from a legal standpoint. The biggest issue is usually a determination of when the illness set in (either before or after the crime), and also, if known, whether the person was on their medication. From my experience, many clients stop taking their medication which creates the aberrant behavior.


So, with so much at stake, I do recommend that you try and hire your doctor to perform another forensic evaluation. This is a very specific area of psychiatry and most practitioners are not certified to perform these exams. It would probably also be worth doing even if the state refuses to pay for it.


Finally, there is no substitute for a visit with a local highly recommended attorney in your area. If nothing else, you could determine whether or not the state and attorney are doing everything they are suppose to in order to properly address your daughter's case.


I wish you and her the best.




Please press accept and leave feedback when you get a chance.




Len and 2 other Criminal Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 8 years ago.

She underwent a state forensic evaluation which sent her to the Mental Health facility. There was no official evaluation done at the facility, only them stating that she was competent at the time of the act. She was put on medication and deemed competent to stand trial. We do not have the funds to have an evaluation done on our own and now no attorney. I was told that they would talk to me about her state of mind at the time since 1-1/2 years had already passed, but this was not done. She had been suffing from mental illness for several years but would not seek help. She is like a different person with her medications


Yes, that is the way I interpreted the inital question. It is also entirely possible that the dr was just a psychologist/ At this next hearing the first order of business will be to appoint another attorney. Given the situation, I would be very very surprised that the court will insist on holding the hearing with the current attorney that wants out, because this is a crucial stage that needs to be handled by the attorney that may assist her at a future trial.


Now, I know that this will sound odd, but time is really on her side now. The longer she stays in the facility and receives treatment, the more likely the court will take some compassion when it comes to working out a deal and sentencing. Better that she wait in the facility than some jail cell. So, I would also recommend that you try and be patient at this stage. The time she spends now will pay off later.


I am very glad that she is levelled out on the meds.


Take Care.




Customer: replied 8 years ago.
She is no longer at the Mental Health Facility. She was there for 6 weeks last year. Two weeks ago she was sent to a Georgia Woman's Probation Detention Center to serve 9 months. After that she will need to pay restitution to State Farm Insurance of $118,000 and be on probation for 20 years or until restitution if paid off. This was a plea bargin that she took but now wants to withdraw plea. What is the legal difference between mentally ill and competent.

As I explained above, mentally ill generally refers to her state of mind and the bility to formulate "intent" at the time of the crime. Competency refers to her ability to stand trial by understanding the process and assisting her attorney.


Sounds like she does need to withdraw that plea. Here, she would need to show that she was not competent at the time she entered into the plea agreement. For that, you will likely still need a forensic psych exam.

Customer: replied 8 years ago.
Thank you so much for your help.