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Florida airport shooter found competent to stand trial

The Iraqi war veteran who went on a shooting spree in a Florida airport, killing five people and wounding six, has been declared mentally competent to stand trial, despite having schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

What does mental competency mean in this case, and how can someone with severe psychiatric issues still be tried for his or her crimes?

Mental incompetency and insanity are often confused with each other, but they have very different meanings in the legal world. Insanity is actually a legal defense -- if someone states that he or she was insane according to the laws of the state at the time of the crime, and the jury agrees, he or she can't be convicted of the crime.

Competency, however, is a legal requirement in order to even go to trial. Someone who is competent to stand trial can plead insanity as a defense, but someone who is incompetent can't be tried in the first place because that's seen as a violation of his or her right to a fair trial.

Incompetency, in a criminal trial, means:

-- The defendant can't understand the charges

-- The defendant can't assist his or her attorney with a defense because he or she is so out of touch with reality

Incompetency doesn't end the criminal case, however. Once the issue is raised, usually by the defense attorney, the court will order an evaluation. If the defendant is found to be incompetent, he or she will be held in a mental health facility for a while and then re-evaluated. If he or she regains competency, usually through proper medication, the trial can begin.

In the case of the Florida shooter, the judge decided not to order a new competency hearing based on the defense attorneys' statements that the defendant had been increasing engaged during their meetings. In addition, he was able to articulate to the judge the purpose of his most recent competency hearing.

It remains to be seen whether or not the defendant will plead insanity. Given his mental conditions, there's a possibility that his attorneys may choose that direction for a defense.

If you have more questions about what does or doesn't make someone fit to stand trial on a criminal charge, talk to a criminal defense attorney today.

Source:, "Judge says accused Florida airport shooter is mentally sound for trial," Zachary Fagenson, March 15, 2017

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