A Collier man was ruled incompetent to stand trial in early March. The man, Santiago Burbano is accused of killing Rubi Velasco, an 18-year-old from East Naples. According to police, Burbano entered the young woman’s apartment and cut her neck. Police found the young woman dead. Burbano was taken into custody as the main suspect in the woman’s murder. His mother reported that her son had locked himself in his bedroom. His mother then reported hearing him say: “Mommy, mommy, I killed Rubi.” Burbano eventually opened the door for his mother and she found him with a rifle pointed at his head. His mother convinced him to put the rifle down and Burbano was taken into custody.
The defense called for a competency hearing in the case and a forensic psychologist ruled that Burbano was incompetent to stand trial. The state then ordered a second evaluation be conducted and a second forensic psychologist concurred with the first’s recommendation. Burbano has been committed to the Florida Department of Children and Families for treatment.
What is a Competency Hearing?
The law requires that all defendants be able to take an active participation in their defense. It also requires that they understand the charges against them. In cases where a defendant is not found competent to stand trial, they cannot be tried or convicted of a crime. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re off the hook.
A hearing that finds a defendant is mentally unfit to stand trial is not the same as an insanity plea. Anyone who pleads insanity has already been found competent to stand trial. Burbano will be required to undergo treatment indefinitely. If it is determined that Burbano is fit to stand trial then he will be required to do so. In other words, Burbano will receive treatment until a psychiatrist deems him mentally fit to stand trial at which point he will face the charges against him.
If it makes sense, Burbano can claim a diminished capacity defense or what is colloquially known as an insanity plea.
How do Courts Determine Competency?
In Florida, the court can appoint up to three experts to make a determination on whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. While judges tend to lend a great deal of credence to expert opinions, they can also consider other factors as well including the defendant’s behavior in their courtroom. There are four major questions that the question of defendant’s competency must be able to answer. Those are:
- Can the defendant adequately communicate with their attorney?
- Can the defendant understand and process information?
- Can a defendant participate in their own defense and make decisions pertinent to their case?
- Does the defendant understand the charges against him and the possible penalties if they are found guilty?
The bar for competency is extremely low. The vast majority of defendants, regardless of their incapacities, are found competent to stand trial.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Lawyer
If you’ve been charged with a crime in West Palm Beach, the criminal defense lawyers at the Skier Law Firm P.A. can help defend you against the charges. Give us a call to set up an appointment today.