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What does ‘competency’ for trial mean? TCU student’s alleged killer to undergo psych exam

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 10/18/2023

The suspect in the shooting death of TCU student Wes Smith will undergo a psychological exam to determine if they’re competent to stand trial at the request of the defendant’s lawyer.

Matthew Purdy, 21, allegedly shot Smith, a person he didn’t know, three times outside a bar in the West 7th entertainment area on Sept. 1.

After the shooting, Purdy allegedly hit a witness in the back of the head with a gun before running from the scene, eventually being arrested by Fort Worth police in a Farrington Field parking lot. When police questioned Purdy on his motives, he couldn’t give investigators a clear reason why he shot the 21-year-old junior from Germantown, Tennessee.

Now, Barry Norman, a clinical psychologist, will attempt to form an opinion on whether Purdy is competent to stand trial and will submit a report to state District Judge Ruben Gonzalez, who last week ordered the examination.

The competency opinion was sought by David Owens, one of two attorneys appointed to represent Purdy. Owens suggested in a motion that Purdy may be incompetent to stand trial.

What exactly does the legal phrase “competency to stand trial” mean? Here’s what we know:

What does ‘competency to stand trial’ mean?

If a defendant is not mentally competent to stand trial, they cannot be convicted of a crime.

Therefore, “competency to stand trial” refers to the person’s mental state after the offense and ahead of court proceedings. Since every person in the country has a right to a fair trial, competency must be established first to ensure due process, according to Justia.

Competency refers to the defendant being able to understand the proceedings, along with being able to help in their own defense. Regardless of how strong the prosecution’s evidence is, a lack of competency in the defendant can be a hindrance in the case going to trial.

A lack of competency doesn’t prevent the police from making the arrest or the prosecution from filing charges, but the criminal proceedings cannot continue until the defendant is found competent, according to Justia.

What is the standard for determining competency in Texas?

In Texas, there are a few key factors that determine if a person can stand trial.

Under Article 46B.003 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, a person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have:

Additionally, the law states that a person is presumed competent to stand trial and shall be found competent to stand trial unless proven incompetent.

What happens if someone’s found incompetent?

If the defendant is deemed incompetent from their evaluation, there’s a few ways things could shake out.

Under Article 46B.071 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, on a determination that a defendant is incompetent to stand trial, the court shall:

If the court receives credible evidence that the defendant has been restored to competency through the programs established above, the case could go to trial.

The court will appoint a disinterested expert to evaluate the defendant’s competency again, under Article 46B.0755 in the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. If the defendant is found competent, things then move into court.

If both legal counsels agree that the defendant is competent to stand trial and the court concurs, the trial can move forward.

What’s the difference between ‘insanity’ plea and ‘competency to stand trial’?

The two claims may sound similar, but there are differences.

Competency to stand trial is determined by a judge after an assessment by a mental health expert, while a defendant must plead not guilty for the crime under the guise of mental illness, according to Vienna Psychological Group, LLC.

Additionally, competency to stand trial refers to the defendant’s mental state after the crime, while insanity refers to the defendant’s mental state during the crime. While both deal with a defendant’s mental state, each claim is handled differently by the court.

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