Judge to make ruling on whether 96-year-old woman is competent for trial on murder charge

A St. Johns County judge expects to decide in two weeks whether a 96-year-old woman is competent to stand trial in the shooting death of her nephew. Amanda Stevenson has been in the St. Johns County Jail since September, when she was charged with fatally shooting her 53-year-old nephew with a .357 magnum, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. The issue is not whether Stevenson is in fact mentally ill. There seems to be little disputing that fact and, earlier this year, a state psychologist said she was not competent and was likely suffering from dementia. Behaviorally, it seems nothing has changed, but that doesn’t rule her out from standing trial. What the judge is not examining is whether she can become competent enough to stand trial. There’s a huge difference. Florida law states that someone cannot be automatically deemed incompetent just because they have been diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. If the defendant is on medication and can fully communicate with his or her Florida legal counsel, as well as understand the proceedings and consequences, he or she can be considered fit to stand trial. The judge asked two more court-appointed mental health professionals to look at Stevenson and determine if there is a way to get her competent enough to either resolve the case or take it trial. If she is not competent, one option would be sending the wheelchair-bound Stevenson to a state mental health hospital for her to live instead of continuing to be locked up in jail.

Competency is a serious issue that most commonly arises in murder and violent acts. The law is clear that a person must be able to understand what is happening in the courtroom and be able to consult and communicate with his or her St. Johns County criminal attorneys. Courts can be very strict on granting an incompetency claim and require written reports and testimony from mental health professionals who attest to the defendant’s inability to stand trial. If competency is an issue, your St. Johns County criminal defense lawyer will likely have an evaluation done. That evaluation stays confidential, unless you chose to share it with the state. If it’s the state that wants the evaluation, prosecutors must get the permission of the defense team.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in St. Augustine or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm, PA at (904) 365-5200 for a free consultation. Our St. Johns County violent crimes lawyer is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.