Over Prosecution Objection, Judge Allows Defense to Seek Outside ‘Bilingual and Culturally Competent Neuropsychologist’ for Mental Competency Evaluation

By Noe Herrera

SANTA BARBARA, CA – Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Pauline Maxwell suspended criminal proceedings here this week and granted a defense attorney’s request to find a “bilingual and culturally competent neuropsychologist” to evaluate her client.

Alejandro Navarrette Mora is accused of second-degree robbery with a deadly weapon and obstructing or resisting an officer.

Deputy Public Defender Susan Sindelar initially requested the court appoint a competent neuroscientist chosen by the Public Defender’s Office.
According to Sindelar, she had “declared a doubt because he (Mora) was not competent (to stand trial) at the time when we last spoke with him.” She added, “every time he gets released from jail, he doesn’t understand [or] retain the information process that he needs to actually do other things.”

Sindelar also argued that Mora “never remembers [defense attorney] Mr. Steele nor myself… and his use of Spanish is odd,” adding it has been difficult to find any records or Mora’s family “not because he is uncooperative, [rather] it’s simply [because] we can’t communicate in a way that he’s able to communicate back with us.”

Deputy District Attorney Michelle Mossembekker said that she has “had this issue come up in other cases and we appointed a different doctor and it [has] bounced back.”

Judge Maxwell also objected, “We can’t appoint someone who is not on the list.”

Sindelar countered that she thinks “it is a waste of court resources to appoint someone on the list because that person is not going to be able to really determine what is going on.”

Instead, Sindelar asked the court and prosecutors to allow evidence from a “bilingual and culturally competent neuropsychologist’s” evaluation on Mora’s mental competency into trial.

Mossembekker insisted the evaluation should be performed by someone on the court’s list of experts, but Sindelar argued that “it is very hard to find someone who is bilingual and culturally competent.”

Moreover, Sindelar said the appropriate neuroscientist should be bilingual and culturally competent because psychologists previously assigned to Mora’s case could not evaluate Mora due to language barriers.

She added, they also denied the case because they had no records to work with, meaning a neuropsychologist would be needed to determine if Mora had a developmental disability or other mental disability.

Mossembekker said she did not “feel comfortable stipulating to this at this time particularly given that we don’t have any [recent] reports from our regularly appointed doctors that I’m aware of.” Instead she suggested that the court continue through the “proper channels at this time.”

Judge Maxwell granted PD Sindelar’s stipulation that defense’s findings from the neuropsychologists will be submitted into evidence. Sindelar and the Public Defender’s Office will need to find the funding to pay for the evaluation, he added.

Judge Maxwell suspended criminal proceedings until Dec. 22 to give Mora’s attorneys enough time to complete the mental evaluation.

About The Author

Noe is a senior-standing undergraduate at UCSB majoring in the History of Public Policy and Law. He aspires to attend law school and focus on education policy.

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