One of the important considerations in a criminal matter is whether or not a defendant can fully understand the charges that are being made, and whether or not the defendant is able to assist in mounting a defense against the charges.
The law provides a mechanism for determining a defendant’s fitness to stand trial. The defense has the right to present evidence, including expert witnesses, to the court. The governing section of the law in New York is known as Article 730 where, upon a motion from one of the parties to an arraignment, the court holds a hearing to determine the capacity of a defendant to understand the charges that are being made.
A Question of Competence
A related case is currently being heard in another state. Charges have been filed in connection with a death from decades ago, and evidentiary hearings are being held to determine the fitness of the defendant to stand trial.
The defense in that matter contends that severe head trauma, over the course of many years and decades, has left the defendant in a reduced state of cognitive functioning. The prosecution disagrees, and has provided witnesses to rebut this claim.
The recent work that has been done toward understanding the deleterious effects of head trauma is helpful in this regard. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has been identified as a major health concern in the United States. A person suffering from TBI can expect their quality of life to decline, from an increase in headaches and sleeplessness to the presence of a brain injury known as a concussion.
Head trauma in sports has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, as more about the lasting effects of these injuries become known. Athletes who received blows to the head–particularly those of a repetitive nature–during their playing or performing careers are at risk of a condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE for short. CTE is caused by the buildup of a material known as tau within the brain of the person receiving the traumatic blows.
CTE, like TBI, is a condition associated with receiving blows to the head. The presence of tau within the brain can only be determined after death, where sections of the brain can be removed and examined. The recent passing of a sports legend compelled the family to donate the brain for medical study, and tests confirmed the presence of tau, and thus CTE, inside the brain.
How can determinations of this type be made on people who are still alive? The short answer is that they cannot. Damage to the brain, which reduces the loss of mental function, can be difficult to determine.
The court renders a verdict on the defendant’s mental capacity, based on the evidence provided. If a defendant is found to have no reduction in mental capacity, the defendant will then stand trial on the charges presented. This process protects the defendant’s rights, and is a significant part of the legal process.
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DISCLAIMER: The exclusive purpose of this article is educational and it is not intended as either legal advice or a general solution to any specific legal problem. Corporate offices for Nave Law Firm are located at 432 N. Franklin Street, Suite 80, Syracuse, NY 13204; Telephone No.: 1-866-792-7800. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. Attorney Advertising.