County courts authorized to determine competency

A bill that expands the authority of county courts to determine a person’s competency to stand trial was passed May 8.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist26' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Matt Hansen'>Sen. Matt Hansen</a>
Sen. Matt Hansen

Currently, if a party files a motion to determine a defendant’s competency to stand trial in county court, a separate civil motion is filed in district court. The criminal case is put on hold while the competency determination is made by a district court judge.

Judges who hear a criminal case in district court, however, have the authority to consider a competency challenge similar to any other motion.

LB259, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, allows county court judges to determine competency without filing a separate civil motion in district court. It also allows city attorneys to question a defendant’s competency.

The bill includes provisions of three related bills.

Those from LB145, also introduced by Hansen, require a court to determine a defendant’s ability to pay a fine before imposing a jail sentence for nonpayment. If the defendant is found to be unable to pay the fine, that court can authorize an installment payment plan or community service as an alternative to payment of the fine.

LB526, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, prohibits the detention of a debtor unless he or she is found to be willfully in contempt of court. It also requires court appointed counsel for indigent debtors in the event of a contempt hearing that could result in imprisonment.

Also introduced by Morfeld and incorporated in the bill is LB395, which requires judges to consider a defendant’s ability to pay as a factor in setting bond.

LB259 passed on a 41-3 vote.

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