SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Today, the Minnesota House approved legislation to codify into statute rules concerning when a person is ruled incompetent to stand trial. Reasons for an incompetency determination include an inability to understand criminal proceedings or rationally consult with an attorney because of a mental illness or cognitive impairment, and therefore cannot be tried for committing a crime. Critically, the bill also establishes guidelines for supervision of incompetent individuals, and it creates forensic navigators to work with defendants during the competency process and develop plans to connect defendants to appropriate services.
Representative Heather Edelson (DFL - Edina), author of the legislation, released the following statement:
“I am really proud that we were able to come together in a bipartisan spirit to pass this important and long overdue bill. This bill goes a long way to close a substantial gap we have in public safety and treatment in the State of Minnesota.
Putting these rules into statute and establishing clear guidelines for offenses when a person's competency is in question will lead to improved outcomes for everyone involved. I would like to thank NAMI, County Attorneys, and the Community Competency Restoration Taskforce – and my co-author and bipartisan pattern in this work, Rep. Tony Albright who helped make this critical bill a reality.
I also want to thank Joseph St. James and his family and friends for being present at the Capitol as this legislation was debated and passed today. Joseph’s husband Paul Pfiefer was struck and killed in a hit and run in Brooklyn Park last year by a man who struggled with severe mental illness. This legislation will go a long way towards preventing future tragedies like his.”
Currently, defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges who suspect a defendant lacks competency to stand trial must request an assessment under rule 20.01 of the Rules of Criminal Procedure. Under these rules, courts have limited power and resources to supervise a person who has been found to be incompetent. This will often lead to these individuals being released with little to no supervision and without any guidance or ability to access necessary services. This often exacerbates issues surrounding these individuals leading to poor treatment and public safety outcomes. The infrastructure this bill sets forth while complex – will do a great deal to improve the revolving door of defendants that cycle through a system.
Video of the session and the floor debate can be found on the House Information Youtube page.