Contact Us 301-705-5137

How Long Can a Person be Deemed Mentally Incompetent to Stand Trial?

There are situations in which a person accused of a crime is considered “incompetent to stand trial” (IST). When a defendant’s mental competency is at issue, the trial court is required to conduct a hearing. If the court finds a defendant IST, the judge can release the defendant or order civil commitment to a mental health facility until such time as they regain competence.

At the same time, Maryland law sets a number of deadlines for restoration of competence. The general rule is that when the defendant is charged with a felony or violent crime, the court must dismiss the case if more than five years or the maximum sentence for the most serious offense alleged has passed, whichever is shorter. For other crimes, including most misdemeanors, this deadline is the shorter of three years or the maximum sentence for the most serious offense charged. The court may also dismiss a case, regardless of the amount of time elapsed, if a criminal proceeding would be “unjust because so much time has passed since the defendant was found” IST.

Court of Special Appeals Declines to Dismiss Murder Indictment but Advises Trial Court to Consider Defendant’s Status

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals recently addressed a situation in which a person was initially charged with misdemeanor offenses, was found IST, and later charged with a felony. The question before the court was how to apply the various deadlines discussed above.

Here was the situation: The defendant in this case, Hoggle v. State, was initially charged with two counts of neglecting a minor and other non-violent crimes in connection with the disappearance of her two children. In January 2015, a district court judge found the defendant IST and committed her to a mental health facility.

Nearly three years later, in September 2017, the State’s Attorney dismissed the misdemeanor proceedings in the district court and simultaneously obtained a grand jury indictment in circuit court charging the defendant with the murder of her children. The circuit court conducted its own competency hearing and found the defendant remained IST in December 2017. Subsequent hearings have continued to find the defendant incompetent.

In January 2020–five years after district court’s original IST finding–defense counsel moved to dismiss the murder case. They argued the five-year clock to try the defendant for a felony began when the district court made its initial finding. The State’s Attorney disagreed, arguing the dismissal of the misdemeanor case terminated that original finding. The prosecution insisted the clock started to run again when the circuit court made its separate IST finding in the felony case.

The courts sided with the prosecution’s interpretation of the law. The Court of Special Appeals, affirming an earlier decision from the circuit court, said the defendant was “not yet entitled to a dismissal of the current indictment” under the five-year rule. At the same time, the appellate court cautioned that the “permissibility of [the defendant’s] continued confinement is still in question.” After all, the defendant had been institutionalized since 2015 and there was no indication she could be restored to mental incompetency anytime soon. On remand to the circuit court, the Court of Special Appeals advised the trial judge that if they determined the defendant is in fact “no longer restorable,” it had the legal authority to dismiss the charges before the expiration of the new five-year clock.

Contact Bowie Criminal Defense Lawyer Robert Castro Today

This article has been provided by the Law Office of Robert Castro. For more information or questions contact our office to speak to an experienced lawyer at (301) 705-5137.