US v. Garza, No. 12-10294 (Tallman with Ikuta and O'Connell, D.J.).
When does a court sua sponte have to order a competency hearing? The 9th addresses this issue here, and adopts a two prong test. There has to be (1) strong evidence that the defendant suffers from a serious disease or defect; and (2) the serious disease or defect affects understanding of the proceedings or ability to assist counsel.
Here, the defendant was charged with possession and distribution of child porn. A defense psychologist examined the defendant. The expert's report indicated crippling anxiety, disabilities, and diabetes that led to dementia. The defense expert also concluded that the defendant was not "able to rationally address his legal circumstances at this time," and so the parties stipulated that the defendant was incompetent. The defendant was then sent to a BOP facility in Los Angeles, where a competency examination and observation was held. BOP (Dr. Hope) issued a report that he was competent, malingering and not suffering from dementia. The defendant returned to court, and his new counsel never followed up with a competency determination. The case went to trial, and sentencing. The court noted he felt the defendant was malingering. On appeal, defendant argues that enough of an issue was raised that a competency determination had to be held. The 9th disagreed. The evidence here was disputed about the mental state, and there was no indication at trial or other proceedings that he the condition was affecting him or impending his ability to assist counsel. His counsel did not raise the issue. The court here was not required to hold a determination sua sponte. The court also stressed that it is primarily incumbent upon defense counsel to bring any issues about the defendant's competency to the court's attention; as in this case, reliance on the court's ability to order a competency determination sua sponte can be hazardous.
The decision is here:http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2014/05/20/12-10294.pdf