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State v. Victor Otero

December 21, 1989

STATE OF NEW JERSEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VICTOR OTERO, DEFENDANT



Passero, J.s.c.

Passero

This opinion considers the following issues relative to the statutory criteria (N.J.S.A. 2C:4-4) affecting a criminal defendant's competency to stand trial.

A. Who bears the burden of proof to establish competency?

B. What standard of proof is required?

C. May this court order compelled medication to achieve sufficient competency?

Defendant, Victor Otero, is charged in a nine-count indictment with various crimes, including attempted murder and kidnapping. Within one week following his arrest, defendant was admitted to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital in a depressed, agitated, delusional and hallucinatory state. Defendant was treated with anti-psychotic medication and, after showing "improvement," was discharged to the Passaic County Jail. He remained at the Passaic County Jail for approximately five months until September 20, 1989, when, after a hearing upon motion of defendant, this court ordered defendant re-admitted to the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital for a court-ordered competency evaluation, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:4-5, as there existed reason to doubt defendant's fitness to proceed to trial.

During the second hospitalization, defendant's anti-psychotic medications were increased, and defendant was found by the treating and evaluating psychiatrists to be competent to stand trial. This determination was based primarily on defendant's response to the increased dosages of anti-psychotic medication.

A competency hearing was held by this court on November 8, 1989, and at this hearing two staff psychiatrists from the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital, including the medical director,

testified that in their opinion, based on reasonable medical certainty, although defendant suffered from a schizophrenic disorder, defendant was competent to stand trial and would remain competent to stand trial provided defendant is maintained on anti-psychotic medication.

Two psychiatrists retained by defendant found defendant to be incompetent to stand trial, and one testified at the competency hearing that anti-psychotic medication could not render defendant competent to stand trial.

Neither New Jersey statutory nor decisional law specifically addresses the issues as to the evidentiary standard and allocation of the burden of proof in competency proceedings.

It is clear that competency to stand trial is a requirement of due process, Drope v. Missouri, 420 U.S. 162, 171, 95 S. Ct. 896, 903, 43 L. Ed. 2d 103 (1975), and such issue may, at any time, be raised by either party or by the court on its own motion. N.J.S.A. 2C:4-5(a). Because of the inherent due process issue, the quantum of proof sufficient to raise the issue of competency is, and should, not be great. A court should hold a competency hearing whenever there is a bona fide ...


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