by Connor Kianpour
Competency is an important and seldom-discussed characteristic that every person bound up in the criminal justice system is meant to have. According to California Penal Code §1368, it is presumed that all individuals made to answer for charges in a court of law are assumed to be competent until they are proven to be incompetent. Incompetency, however, is hard to prove, given the somewhat subjective nature of mental health assessments.
Michael Isaiah Hernandez has 10 charges to which he is being held to answer in a court of law, but his defense has put forward reason to believe that he is incompetent to answer to these charges presently. On October 12, 2018, in Department 11 of the Superior Court of Yolo County, Mr. Hernandez’s competency in answering to his charges was assessed for the third time in 3 years, Judge Timothy Fall presiding. Mr. Hernandez was represented by Jesse Ortiz, who called to the witness stand an expert witness by the name of Dr. Captane Peter Thomson.
Dr. Thomson is a psychiatrist who has been practicing since 1965, specializing in mental and emotional disorders . He has given opinions on the mental capacities of individuals for the purposes of courts in Yolo, Napa, Sierra, and Sacramento counties. His qualifications were made so apparent that Ms. Weiss of the District Attorney’s office of Yolo County submitted as to his expertise before the defense finished establishing a legitimate basis for his expertise.
In his expert testimony, Dr. Thomson revealed that he reviewed all the records of Mr. Hernandez’s behaviors that were made available to him by the jail. Furthermore, Dr. Thomson made it known to the court that he has seen consistency in the defendant’s medical health history in his records since the time the defendant was a teenager. Based on his professional opinion, Dr. Thomson diagnosed Mr. Hernandez as a man suffering from extreme psychosis, who lacks the ability to cooperate with counsel in an efficacious manner and who lacks the ability to understand the proceedings in his matter.
Judge Fall asked Dr. Thomson if he suspected the defendant of malingering, or feigning mental incapacitation, and asked the psychiatrist what signs are indicative of malingering. Dr. Thomson stated with confidence that he does not believe Mr. Hernandez to be faking his circumstances, as it is normally the case that malingerers concoct elaborate, exculpatory stories which Mr. Hernandez has not done. Furthermore, he emphasized the consistency in Mr. Hernandez’s high refusal record and in his behaviors since his teenage years.
Once Dr. Thomson stepped down from the stand, the prosecution called to the stand Mr. Hernandez himself. When being sworn in under oath, Mr. Hernandez paused for an excruciatingly long period of time before responding to the clerk of the court with: “solemnly swear.”
During Ms. Weiss’s questioning, the prosecutor asked the defendant why he has so many times refused to meet with his attorney and with a psychiatrist. His response for the many times, over repeated questioning, was a blank, empty stare. She tried asking simpler questions about what the defendant’s name is or what his father’s name is, but all he was able to muster after some time was, “I plead the fifth.” After some time, he was more compliant, responding to questions about the machinations of the courtroom. He was able to respond to Ms. Weiss’s inquiry about what a judge does by responding that “he judges.”
After the prosecutor’s belittling line of questioning, the prosecution and defense rested. Ms. Weiss gave a closing statement where she claimed that Mr. Hernandez, based on his ability to answer questions of the form aforementioned, demonstrated that he in fact does have the ability to cooperate but is choosing not to. In the defense’s closing statement, Mr. Ortiz implored the judge for time where Mr. Hernandez could get the psychiatric help he needs to develop the competency he needs to represent himself in a court of law.
Based on the findings, Judge Fall declared that he has no doubt that Mr. Hernandez suffers from psychosis but stated that the claim of his incompetency does not pass a preponderance of the evidence test. Against the recommendation of Dr. Thomson to send Mr. Hernandez to the Atascadero State Mental Hospital, Judge Fall ruled that the criminal proceedings will be reinstated. Mr. Hernandez’s trial readiness conference is set for October 31, 2018.