State of Utah v. James Benjamin White

2011 UT App 155
Filed May 12, 2011

In 2001, James White was charged with criminal nonsupport for failure to pay child support from 1994 through 2000. Mr. White’s case was delayed for several years because of his conflicts with his court appointed attorneys, his filing of hundreds of pages of motions, and his incarceration in Colorado on a different charge. Finally, at a hearing in March 2009, the district court found that Mr. White was incompetent to stand trial. Utah Code section 77-15-6 usually requires that a defendant who is found incompetent to stand trial be restored to competency through medication and treatment at the State Hospital. In this case, however, the district court found “no indication that White would cooperate with treatment, that treatment would be beneficial, or that any restoration of competency was likely to occur within a reasonable period of time.” The court also found that neither party was likely to get a fair trial because of the staleness of the evidence, that the minor children were approaching majority, and that there was no likelihood that Mr. White would be able to pay restitution if he was convicted. In light of these considerations, the court found that there were insufficient reasons to continue investing resources in the case and so dismissed it.

The State appealed, arguing that it is mandatory under Utah Code section 77-15-6 that a defendant who is found incompetent to stand trial be committed for an attempt at competency restoration before the case can be dismissed.

Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure rule 25(a) allows a trial court to dismiss a case “[i]n its discretion, for substantial cause and in furtherance of justice. . . .” However, as a general rule, a district court cannot dismiss a criminal case solely based on the defendant’s incompetency to stand trial without allowing the State an attempt at restoring his competency. But the dismissal of this case did not hang entirely on Mr. White’s competence. The district court gave other valid reasons for dismissing the case that were not related to competency, such as the staleness of the evidence and the age of the case. Thus the Court of Appeals held that it was not inappropriate for the district court to dismiss the case.

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