STATE v. JOEL DORT, SC 19066
Judicial District of Stamford-Norwalk
Criminal; Competency to Stand Trial; Whether Appellate Court Properly Found that Trial Court's Independent Inquiry into Defendant's Request for a Competency Evaluation was Inadequate When that Issue Had not Been Raised or Briefed. The defendant was charged with burglary and kidnapping, and the trial court ordered an examination pursuant to General Statutes § 54-56d to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. After the examination was completed, the parties stipulated that the defendant was competent to stand trial. Approximately seven months later, at the beginning of jury selection, defense counsel informed the court that he had concerns about the defendant's competence and moved for another § 54-56d competency evaluation. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that it had not been presented with substantial evidence that would give rise to a concern that the defendant was not competent at that time to proceed to trial. The defendant was subsequently convicted of burglary and kidnapping. He appealed, claiming that the trial court improperly denied his request for a second competency evaluation. The Appellate Court (138 Conn. App. 401) found that the trial court abused its discretion in disregarding defense counsel's request for a second competency hearing without conducting an independent inquiry into the defendant's competence. It held that defense counsel's statements to the trial court regarding his concerns about the defendant's competence, paired with counsel's statement that there may have been relevant confidential communications at issue, were sufficient to constitute specific factual allegations that, if taken as true, would constitute substantial evidence of mental impairment. The Appellate Court therefore determined that due process required the trial court to conduct an independent inquiry, namely, a hearing before the court, to determine whether a competency evaluation was justified. Moreover, it found that the trial court dismissed any notion of whether the defendant was incompetent without canvassing the defendant, observing his behavior, or speaking to him at all, even after defense counsel requested that the defendant be permitted to address the court personally regarding his competency. Accordingly, it reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded with direction that the trial court conduct a hearing to determine whether a competency evaluation is needed. The state petitioned for certification to appeal, claiming that, in his brief to the Appellate Court, the defendant never challenged the adequacy of the trial court’s independent inquiry into the motion for a second competency examination but rather argued only that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion. The Supreme Court granted the state’s petition, and it will consider whether the Appellate Court properly determined that the trial court’s independent inquiry into the defendant’s request for a competency examination was inadequate where that issue had not been raised or briefed by the parties and, if so, whether it properly reversed the defendant's convictions and ordered a hearing to determine whether a competency examination is required.