People v. FordAnnotate this Case
After the People petitioned to extend appellant's involuntary commitment, the state hospital failed to transport appellant to the hearing. Appellant's counsel waived his right to a jury on his behalf and, following a bench trial, the trial court found the People's petition true and extended appellant's commitment. Appellant contends that the trial court erred by, inter alia, deciding in his absence that he was incompetent to decide whether to waive this right, and by accepting his counsel's waiver.
The Court of Appeal was unpersuaded by the Attorney General's contention that appellant's presence would have made no difference in the trial court's assessment of appellant's capacity to waive his right to a jury trial. The court explained that, in enacting Penal Code 1026.5, the Legislature envisioned a pre-trial hearing at which the not guilty by reason of insanity defendant is not only present but is also addressed directly by the court concerning his or her right to a jury trial. That the trial court found appellant incompetent in his absence may have deprived him of the opportunity to present his strongest evidence of his own competence. Furthermore, appellant's subsequent testimony at trial suggests that had he been present at the hearing, he might well have been able to dispel any doubt about his capacity to understand the jury-waiver decision. The court rejected the Attorney General's claims to the contrary and held that the violation of appellant's right to be present at the hearing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.