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Frequently Asked Questions

What does "competent to stand trial" mean?
When a person is charged with a criminal offense, he or she must be able to understand the legal situation. This includes proposed charges, potential penalty if convicted, the meaning of various pleas available and the roles and responsibilities of various people in the courtroom. The person must also be able to assist his or her attorney in the preparation of a defense. If someone can do these things in a rational way, the person is considered to be competent to stand trial. If someone has a mental illness or intellectual disability and is unable to understand his or her legal situation or assist his or her attorney, the person is said to be incompetent to stand trial.

What happens if someone is incompetent to stand trial?
If the court decides that a person is incompetent to stand trial, the court also decides if treatment will help that person be restored to competence. If the judge decides that treatment will most likely restore someone to competence, the judge will order that the person receive restoration treatment. This treatment may occur in a hospital operated by the Ohio Department of Mental Health (OhioMHAS), at an outpatient mental health facility or in another setting. The law limits the amount of time this treatment continues based upon the severity of the offense with which a person is charged. Up to one year of treatment is allowed for the most serious offenses. When a person is restored to competence, he or she returns to court to face the charges.

What is sanity?
Sanity refers to a person’s mental condition at the time of an alleged criminal offense. If a person was unable to know the wrongfulness of his or her actions at the time of an alleged criminal offense, as a result of a mental disease or defect, then the court may decide that the person is not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). If the court makes this decision, the judge usually orders the person to be treated in a hospital operated by OhioMHAS. The judge may also order that the person be treated at an outpatient mental health facility on a legal status known as conditional release. The NGRI commitment (in the hospital or on conditional release) may continue for as long as the person would have served in prison if convicted of the single most serious charge with which he or she was charged.

What is the difference between competent to stand trial and sanity?
Competent to stand trial refers to a person’s mental condition at the time that he or she undergoes a court hearing or trial when charged with a criminal offense. To be competent to stand trial, a person must be able to understand the nature and objective of the proceedings against him or her and be able to assist an attorney in his or her defense. Sanity refers to a person’s mental condition at the time of the alleged criminal offense. Therefore, a competent to stand trial evaluation focuses on how a person is mentally functioning at the time of the assessment, while a sanity evaluation examines a person’s mental functioning at the time of an offense. The court must order competent to stand trial and sanity evaluations to be completed. (See Ohio Revised Code 2945.37, 2945.371)

Who will evaluates someone's competency or sanity?
The law requires that a psychiatrist or psychologist conducts competent to stand trial and sanity evaluations. Most of the time, the examiner works for one of the certified community forensic psychiatry centers, but the court may order that another examiner perform the evaluation or, in rare circumstances, that the evaluation be completed in one of the OhioMHAS regional psychiatric hospitals.

Who makes the final decision about competency and sanity?
The judge in the trial court makes the final decision about whether a person is competent or incompetent to stand trial. Either the judge or a jury decides whether a person is not guilty by reason of insanity or legally sane.

Who decides when someone gets out of the hospital?
The same judge who orders a person to the hospital also decides when a person is ready to have increased movement privileges in the hospital and when a person is ready to be discharged from the hospital on conditional release. The judge makes these decisions after receiving recommendations from the hospital's treatment staff.

If someone has a problem in the hospital or in the community, who does he or she contact?
Each OhioMHAS hospital has a client rights specialist who can assist anyone with concerns. You can also contact the community client rights advocate that serves your county. You can also call the OhioMHAS Consumer Adocacy and Protection Specialist toll-free at 1-877-275-6364.