Q: I have a theoretical question for my graduate class about autism spectrum disorder and the CJS that I was hoping to ask.
I have to come up with a theoretical scenario about a suspect and discuss competency, capacity, and mitigating factors. If someone went into someone's home without permission and stole a bike, would this be a crime that could be brought to court in front of a jury? I know you don't have all the information about the case since this isn't real and is just theoretical, but theoretically speaking, would this be a situation that the owner of the house could press criminal charges for? If the defendant were autistic and it was considered petty larceny, would the person still go to court and would their competency and capacity to commit the crime be considered? I just want to know if this would be a good example of a scenario that I could use to discuss competency, capacity, and any mitigating factors or not. Thank you
A: Dear Questioner,
Thank you for your question.
The answer is yes. A jury trial could eventually occur if the person is found competent to stand trial. However, there are a number of situations that could occur before a jury trial takes place.
First, an attorney would have their client evaluated by a mental health professional. If that professional determines that the person is not competent, then the case will not go any further. Competency is evaluated by a defendant’s ability to understand the proceedings against them and assist in their own defense. If they are incapable, for whatever reason, of understanding and assisting, they are legally incompetent. The government cannot prosecute a person who is not competent to stand trial.
However, take for example a person who is determined to be competent but has mental limitations. Note that these mental limitations could factor into the proceedings against the defendant as well.
Police officers have discretion when it comes to whether or not they will charge a person with a crime. If they do, the person charged may receive a clerk magistrate’s hearing, to try resolve the case. A lawyer can explore pre-trial diversion as well. If all of these options are unsuccessful, then the person would be arraigned in criminal court.
Once in criminal court, there are still other ways to stop a charge from going forward. This could include negotiating pre-trial probation conditions with the district attorney or making a plea deal. Ultimately, if a credible defense is available, the case could proceed to trial. Typically, criminal defense lawyers will try to explore other options before moving to a trial, but a trial always remains an option.
I hope this has helped answer your question.
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