State v. Robinson, 221 N.C.App. 509, 729 S.E.2d 88 (Jul. 17, 2012)

The trial court abused its discretion by denying defense counsel’s motion requesting that the defendant be evaluated by a mental health professional to determine competency. At the call of the case for trial, defense counsel made a motion, supported by an affidavit by defense counsel and prior mental health evaluation reports, questioning the defendant’s capacity to proceed and seeking an assessment of his competency by a mental health professional. After conducting a hearing on the motion and considering the documentary evidence and arguments presented, the trial court denied the motion. Reviewing those materials, the court concluded that “[t]he entirety of the evidence presented . . . indicated a ‘significant possibility’ that defendant may have been incompetent . . . , necessitating the trial court to appoint an expert or experts to inquire into defendant’s mental health”. The court noted that when the a trial court conducts a proper competency hearing but abuses its discretion in proceeding to trial in light of the evidence indicating the defendant’s incompetency to proceed, the proper remedy is to vacate the judgment and remand the case for a new trial if and when the defendant is properly determined competent to proceed with trial. However, in this case a defense witness, Dr. Corvin, testified on direct examination that “there has been a time during my evaluation where I was somewhat concerned about [defendant’s current competency to stand trial], although not currently.” The court noted that defense counsel did not question Dr. Corvin on the issue of competency. It concluded: “Given Dr. Corvin’s presence at trial and his testimony that he was not currently concerned with defendant’s competency to stand trial, we fail to see how the trial court’s error prejudiced defendant.”