Murder suspect Charles Edwards “restored to competency”

June 19, 2013

The man accused of fatally stabbing Santa Cruz business owner Shannon Collins last year has been deemed restored to competency, according to his public defender.

Charles Anthony Edwards III was brought back to Santa Cruz County Jail last week, according to jail records. There, he met with his attorney, Anthony Robinson, who described his client as being “heavily medicated.” A preliminary hearing has been set for Aug. 5 with a confirmation date of July 26. In the interim, the Santa Cruz County Superior Court ordered Edwards transported back to Atascadero State Hospital to maintain his competency, Robinson said Wednesday.

In September, a judge declared Edwards “incompetent to stand trial” for the murder of Collins, who was stabbed multiple times on May 7, 2012 as she walked down Broadway in downtown Santa Cruz just before noon. Edwards, 44,  was arrested shortly afterward. The San Francisco native had recently been discharged from state parole and made his way to Santa Cruz, where he spent a few nights at the city’s Homeless Services Center.

Criminal proceedings were suspended last year  while medical and psychiatric experts evaluated Edwards, who has a known history of mental health issues.  Those experts deemed Edwards to be incompetent to stand trial — in other words, unable to comprehend court proceedings and fully assist in his own defense. Those evaluations were then assessed by Judge John Salazar, who upheld the decision.

The next step when a defendant is deemed incompetent to stand trial is to send the person to a state mental health facility for treatment until they are determined to be “restored to competence.”

According to state officials, under California law, state hospitals are required to admit, examine and report to the court on the likelihood of restoring a particular defendant’s competence within 90 days of their commitment. The state’s higher courts have also ruled that just prescribing medicine to a mentally ill defendant in the confines of a local jail doesn’t legally constitute the treatment efforts necessary to restore competency, hence the reason those defendants are sent to one of the state’s official state mental hospitals.

The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the state spends approximately $170 million annually on patients who have been found incompetent to stand trial and are then sent to state hospitals.

Once at a state hospital, it takes an average of six to seven months to restore a defendant to competency, according to a report issued last year by that same state agency.  Under state law, defendants charged with a felony and committed to state hospitals for competency treatment are “not permitted to spend longer than three years or the maximum prison term the court could have sentenced the defendant to serve if they were found guilty of the crime, whichever is shorter.”

The process is not without controversy. Some have criticized the concept in general, expressing concern that “restoring to competency” really just means pumping a defendant full of psychiatric drugs. Others argue that it is about much more than medication and that state hospitals use extensive therapeutic programs and surveying to ensure competency is restored. In some instances, however, a defendant can “lose” competency again after being found restored to competency, at which point the entire process could begin again.

 

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