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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brother of NFL TE Found Competent in Murder Case

By: Sean Farrelly

I want to start off this blog by pointing out my clear cut bias.  Not only do I generally side with the accused as a Washington, DC criminal defense attorney, I am also a University of Maryland alumni and therefore a HUGE Vernon Davis fan (not to mention that I am a former Miami Dolphins fan and I always liked Vontae Davis quite a bit).

Michael Davis, brother of NFL star TE and DB Vernon and Vontae Davis, is accused of assaulting five individuals with a hammer last April in NW Washington, DC.  One of those individuals, a tourist from Denver, was killed and the other four suffered significant injuries.  Davis' legal team, led by Dana Page of the Public Defender Service, presented the testimony of multiple mental health professional in order to convice the court that Davis is incompetent to stand trial.  The government argued that while Davis receives treatment and medication from St. Elizabeth's Hospital he is competent to stand trial.

After more than a week of hearings Judge Morin of DC Superior Court deemed Davis competent to stand trial.  “The defendant has obtained sufficient factual understanding of the charges against him,” Judge Morin said. “He understands what a trial is, and he trusts and works well with his attorneys.”

Davis had initially been deemed incompetent to stand trial by doctors at St. Elizabeth's but he was eventually deemed competent by hospital staff.  

Ms. Page argued to the court that her client was not actually competent, he is merely "parroting" what he had been told by the doctors hired by the government.  For the time being, Judge Morin found those arguments unpersuasive.

Judge Morin ordered that Davis remain at St. Elizabeth's in order to ensure his competency is maintained for the duration of the trial.  Judge Morin did not come to this decision without hesitation as he stated “I have concerns.  But we have to experience the trial to make a determination of his real understanding.”  On a side note, Davis apparently has no intention to plead guilty by reason of insanity as he himself does not believe he suffers from mental illness.

These types of situations are extremely difficult for the parties and the courts to address.  We are not dealing with a situation where someone cannot be convicted of a crime because at the time they committed it they were legal insane.  In fact, the competency issues involved here actually have nothing to do with guilt or innocence.  The court is simply trying to determine whether if Davis' case were to proceed to trial he would be able to understand the charges against him, who the parties are, what role the judge and jury play and whether he would be able to assist his attorney in his legal defense.  If an individual is not of a sound enough mind to understand those things they are deemed incompetent and cannot be prosecuted for the offense.  

By Judge Morin deeming Davis competent to stand trial, he is making a determination that Davis can understand the legal proceedings and also that he is able to assist his attorney with his legal defense.  Such a ruling basically puts Davis' attorney in the position of having to move forward with his case, regardless of whether she believes she can effectively prepare for trial with Davis' assistance.

Judge Morin is an excellent judge and I have no doubt that his decision was sound, however, by deeming Davis competent to stand trial he has made things much more difficult for Dana Page moving forward.  With that said, I am sure Ms. Page will forge ahead and serve her client well.  It will be very interesting to see how the issue of Davis' competency will play out moving forward.  


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