Mental Health Issues in Florida Criminal Cases

Florida drug crime cases involving a defendant with mental and emotional conditions can raise a number of complicated legal issues. In some cases, a judge will hold a competency hearing to determine whether the person is mentally capable to stand trial. A recent decision out of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal offers some insight into when a judge must hold a competency hearing.

colorful pillsA defendant was arrested and charged with various crimes related to his alleged involvement in a prescription drug trafficking ring. He eventually agreed to plead guilty to eight criminal offenses. In a hearing, however, he told the judge that he was under the influence of various prescription drugs to treat mental issues after being involved in some sort of accident. He told the judge that he often had trouble concentrating, but he said he was able to understand everything the judge and his lawyer were telling him. The judge eventually sentenced him to 25 years beyond bars.

The defendant’s doctor testified at the sentencing hearing that the defendant suffered from neurological problems that left him “simple” and “confused.” The doctor said he wasn’t capable of operating a multimillion dollar criminal enterprise like the prescription drug ring in which he was accused of being involved. Investigators, however, said the defendant was clear about the facts of the alleged crimes in several hours of police interviews. His ex-wife also said the defendant stopped going to doctor visits and continued to run the criminal operation, including by considering expanding it to Puerto Rico. As a result, the judge denied his request to reduce his sentence.

Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the judge didn’t err by failing to hold a competency hearing to determine whether the defendant was mentally capable of entering a guilty plea. The court said the judge had no reasonable basis to believe that he wasn’t mentally competent to proceed. Instead, the court said “competent substantial evidence existed that the defendant was competent.”

“After the plea colloquy revealed that the defendant suffered a brain injury four years before entering the plea, the court thoroughly inquired whether that injury was affecting the defendant’s ability to understand the plea and its consequences,” the Fourth District concluded. The court noted that the neurologist testified largely about the defendant’s condition in the months directly following the accident. The doctor didn’t, however, testify about his condition in the three years after the accident and before the guilty plea.

If you or a loved one has been charged with drug trafficking in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced attorney. Tampa criminal defense lawyer Will Hanlon is a seasoned attorney who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (813) 228-7095 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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