Competency Hearing Failure Assailed in Md.

     BALTIMORE (CN) – A judge failed to determine competency before convicting a man of threatening his children whom he saw as “devils,” Maryland’s highest court ruled.
     The initial charges against Mario Sibug arose from an incident in 1998 in which he allegedly Sibug pointed a handgun at his five children and threatened to kill them.
     When the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene deemed Sibug incompetent to stand trial the next year, it cited his “religious delusions” and inability to “separate man-made law from ‘God’s moral law.'”
     In a period of several months of 2000, Sibug was committed, found competent to stand trial and then deemed incompetent again after his condition deteriorated.
     The department did not consider Sibug competent again until 2003, but its records quoted Sibug as saying he would stop his medication when he was able to make that decision for himself.
     Sibug had his next court appearance in 2004. He was then found guilty of second-degree assault and faced deportation to the Philippines.
     Another court found later, however, that Sibug had been deprived of ineffective counsel since he had not been advised that his assault conviction carried immigration consequences.
     When Sibug was retried before the same judge in 2008, court transcripts show that many aspects of his religious delusions had returned.
     A jury again found Sibug guilty, and Sibug’s counsel requested a competency hearing prior to sentencing. The day of the sentencing, Sibug’s attorney attempted to have a hearing held to determine Sibug’s competency.
     After deeming Sibug competent, the court sentenced him to ten years in prison with credit for the nearly five years he had spent institutionalized.
     The Maryland Court of Appeals found on Nov. 25 that it had to sort out “the quagmire that results from a defendant in a criminal case having been adjudicated incompetent, then eight years later being tried and convicted in the same case without having been adjudged competent to stand trial.”
     In 51-page ruling, the court remanded Sibug’s case for a new trial in Baltimore Circuit Court when competency is found.
     “The obligation with respect to a determination of competency rests with the court and not the defendant,” Judge Adkins Battaglia wrote for the five-judge majority.
     Judge Sally Adkins joined a brief dissent by Judge Shirley Watts that emphasizes Sibug’s obligation to raise the issue of competency.
     “On this record, I would not conclude that the circuit court erred in refraining from raising Sibug’s competency sua sponte,” Watts wrote.

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