Is amnesia sufficient to prevent a defendant from standing trial?

California, United States of America

The following excerpt is from People v. Robinson, E065108 (Cal. App. 2017):

Amnesia as to the alleged offense does not totally incapacitate the defense and a defendant is still free to assist counsel in numerous other ways. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial, not necessarily a perfect trial." (People v. Amador, supra, 200 Cal.App.3d at p. 1454.)

The record shows defendant received a fair trial and effective representation. There was ample reliable evidence establishing the circumstances of the crimes, and demonstrating that defendant was capable of assisting his attorney, even though he could not remember what happened during commission of the crimes. As noted in Amador, "If the defendant's condition of amnesia is permanent, to hold that amnesia renders a defendant incapable of standing trial would require courts to hold that amnesia will completely negate all criminal responsibility and 'will turn over the determination of crime and criminal liability to psychiatrists, whose opinions are usually based in large part upon defendant's self-serving statements, instead of to Courts and juries, and . . . will greatly jeopardize the safety and security of law-abiding citizens and render the protection of Society from crime and criminals far more difficult than ever before in modern history.'" (People v. Amador, supra, 200 Cal.App.3d at pp. 1454-1455.) We conclude there was no error in the trial court not sua sponte ordering a competency evaluation for defendant, nor due process violations of defendant's due process rights to a fair trial or effective representation.

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