Defendant Denied Due Process When Allowed to Withdraw from Mental Evaluation

An evaluation of a defendant’s mental capacity is an important protection in criminal cases. A defendant is mentally incompetent if he lacks sufficient ability to assist in his defense with a reasonable degree of understanding of the ongoing case.

In Lauderdale County, Alabama, in Weeks v. State of Alabama, the Court of Criminal Appeals addressed whether the defendant was denied due process when the trial court allowed him to withdraw his motion for a mental evaluation. On February 17, 2016, an Alabama State Trooper decided to pull over Gary Weeks for driving without a license plate on his car. However, according to state troopers, Weeks did not immediately stop his vehicle. Instead, he led state troopers on a pursuit, struck another state trooper’s car twice, and tried to escape on foot for a short period. Weeks was placed under arrest and indicted by the Lauderdale County grand jury.

Weeks filed a motion for a mental evaluation, so the court could rule whether he could assist in his own defense. The trial court granted this motion on January 25, 2017 but on February 21, 2017, Weeks, made a motion to withdraw the motion. Again, his motion was granted.

On March 6, 2017, a jury convicted Weeks of first-degree assault, attempting to elude a law-enforcement officer, and reckless endangerment. He was sentenced to 22 years for the attempted-assault and attempting-to-elude convictions and 12 months for the reckless endangerment conviction. Weeks appealed.

On appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that the trial court initially granted Weeks’s motion for a mental evaluation. By doing so, the court’s decision was based on the existence of sufficient evidence for an evaluation. The trial court did not cancel its order for a mental evaluation because it no longer believed Weeks needed one; rather, the rescinded order occurred because Weeks waived the evaluation. However, the defendant’s waiver, alone, is not enough to withdraw a motion for a mental evaluation. Because of this, Weeks was denied due process and a right to a fair trial. The Court reversed Weeks’s convictions.

The main takeaway here is the power the trial judge has as the “screening agent” for mental examination requests. Though, Weeks asked for the motion, once the trial court granted the motion, Weeks no longer had the sole authority to refuse that evaluation.

If the court finds that there is enough evidence for a mental examination, it cannot merely “change its mind” and rescind the order, based on the whims of a defendant. Mental examinations must be granted on evidence, so as to protect the rights of defendants.

It is important to seek an experienced criminal attorney who understands the realities of Alabama criminal law. If you need a criminal lawyer, contact INGRAM LAW LLC at (205) 236-3997 for help with your case.

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