SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — Some prosecutors say a flaw in Utah’s justice system helps get criminals off the hook when they claim they are incompetent to stand trial. A Utah bill heading to the governor’s desk is requiring more training for forensic evaluators who are responsible for handing down the competency determination.
It’s something ABC4 News has covered extensively with a man who has been charged on multiple occasions involving crimes against children. In every instance, Jonathan Soberanis was found incompetent to stand trial. The judge then had to dismiss his charges and release him.
Forensic evaluators are responsible for determining if someone is not competent. While these evaluators are educated in psychology, some argue they do not understand the legal definition of competency and end up providing an inaccurate report.
Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden) said H.B. 330 would require evaluators to have more training on the legal system. They would also be required to provide more information on how they determine someone’s competency, including if they can become competent to stand trial.
The process is called restoration treatment, which involves the defendant remaining in a controlled facility while they are being treated. Depending on the crime, defendants are held for a limited amount of time, but this bill would allow a judge to extend that time by 45 days if progress is being made.
Wilcox said this also allows professionals more time to address a mental health issue, like someone who is becoming stable on a new medication.
“They’re immediately released because [the case] can’t be prosecuted, and we just start over again with a new victim,” said Wilcox.
H.B.330 is on its way to the governor’s desk for consideration.