People v. Zimmer.
2021 COA 40. No. 18CA0284. Criminal Law—Discovery—Mandatory Competency Evaluation—Preliminary Competency Finding.
April 1, 2021
Defendant tried to initiate a romantic relationship with the victim. After the victim rebuffed his advances, defendant sent her dozens of text messages over the course of two days, some of which threatened that he would rape and kill her. Defendant also went to the victim’s home and left a bag hanging on the door containing a knife and a threatening message. A jury found defendant guilty of stalking. Between trial and sentencing, defense counsel filed a formal competency motion. The trial court denied the motion and sentenced defendant.
On appeal, defendant contended that the prosecution failed to disclose an exhibit to the defense before introducing it at trial, which constituted a discovery violation and violated his right to due process. It is unclear from the record whether the prosecution failed to disclose the exhibit. However, assuming the allegation is true, any error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt because the properly admitted evidence of defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.
Defendant also argued that the trial court erred by failing to order a competency evaluation before trial or, alternatively, between trial and sentencing. The court, defense counsel, or the prosecution may raise the issue of competency. Once the defendant’s competency is properly raised with supported facts, the court may make a preliminary finding of competency or incompetency. If the court determines that it has insufficient information to make a preliminary finding, it must order a competency evaluation. The court must also order a competency evaluation if the court makes a preliminary finding and either party objects to it within seven days. In evaluating whether a written competency motion triggers the statutory procedure, the court’s task is limited to evaluating whether the proffered facts support counsel’s good faith doubt about the defendant’s competency.
As to the pretrial competency evaluation request, defense counsel stated that he had concerns about defendant’s competency but did not explain what those concerns were or file a motion. Therefore, his statement gave the trial court no reason to believe that defendant was incompetent before trial, and the court did not err by failing to order a competency evaluation at that time. However, the post-trial competency motion set forth facts that included defendant’s belief that the witness who testified as the victim was an imposter and thus supported defense counsel’s good faith doubt about defendant’s competency. Accordingly, the trial court erred in not making a preliminary competency finding, and this error was not harmless.
The judgment of conviction was affirmed, the sentence was vacated, and the case was remanded with directions for further proceedings.