Judge Declares Defendant Incompetent after She Refuses to Appear for Her Hearing

By Elizabeth Garabedian

SANTA MARIA, CA – Judge Gustavo Lavayen here Thursday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, Santa Maria branch, declared Jessica Saenz presently incompetent to stand trial after she refused to leave her cell and appear in court.

A mental competency hearing was held for Saenz, who is facing charges of commercial shoplifting, battery, resisting arrest, and was in contempt of court multiple times for violating protective orders throughout 2021.

Saenz is currently being held in the Santa Barbara County Jail and was expected to appear in court via Zoom. But the hearing began Thursday with Judge Lavayen telling the court, “We’re being informed by the jail that Ms. Saenz is refusing to get dressed and appear.”

Judge Lavayen then addressed Saenz’s counsel, Deputy Public Defender Adrian Galvan, asking “I’m not sure if you want to proceed without her presence or see if they can talk her into coming out.”

During Saenz’s previous hearings, there have been instances where she has failed to comply with pretrial services and refused to appear via Zoom.

Galvan seemed concerned with his client’s behavior and said: “Your honor, I see that has been an issue in regard to some of the court appearances and the evaluation, the attempted evaluation by (doctors)—I don’t want custodial staff to be put in harm’s way or Ms. Saenz as well,” said Galvan.

PD Galvan said that if the prosecution had no objections to “indicating incompetent to proceed” for Saenz, then he too would “be okay with doing that and initiating the process from here forward.”

The deputy district attorney asked the court if there was an evaluation done for Saenz: “Our notes indicate that the last court date went off calendar and prior to that the last doctor was not able to interview her.”

After Judge Lavayen reported that there was a stipulation of one doctor, agreed upon by both parties in July 2021, the DDA took her time reading Dr. Murphy’s report as the court waited to proceed. Another psychiatrist had been appointed but Saenz refused to meet with them.

The prosecution agreed to the PC § 1368 proceedings (declaration of incompetency) and Judge Lavayen stated that he would “find good cause to proceed in her absence based on her refusal to come out of her cell and get dressed to appear by video.” Galvan asked that the court order another report for Saenz to determine her mental state.

“Based on the reports I am going to find that she is presently incompetent and continue to suspend criminal proceedings pursuant to 1368,” declared Judge Lavayen.

He then took Galvan’s request under advisement and ordered a placement report for Saenz and continued the matter so Saenz could appear in a mental health department on Sept. 30. Saenz will remain in custody until her next hearing where the court will determine how to proceed.

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