Friday, December 9, 2022

Changes to Virginia bill provides clarifications for cases of incompetency

Oswaldo Martinez appeared in the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court on Nov. 27, 2018. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)
Oswaldo Martinez, 47, appeared in the Williamsburg-James City County Circuit Court on Nov. 27, 2018. (WYDaily/Sarah Fearing)

Amendments to a Virginia bill from the General Assembly have been approved by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to address questions of mental deficiency in defendants.

Bill 1231 was approved by the panel on Monday and provides clarification on the length of time an incompetent defendant may receive treatment before going to trial and the measures of treatment, according to Virginia’s Legislative Information System.

The bill would help address situations such as the one presented in the case of Oswaldo Martinez, 37, who is currently in custody charged with the rape and murder of Brittany Binger in 2005.

Martinez’s case has created a complex legal situation because as a deaf and mute undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, Martinez does not possess the communication skills to properly understand and aide his attorney during court proceedings.

As a result, Martinez has been subjected to more than a decade of medical treatments and education attempts to try and teach him how to communicate with others. After years of bi-annual check-ups, judges have determined that Martinez is unrestorably incompetent, according to court documents filed in the case.

But this poses a challenge because Martinez is being held indefinitely without going to trial but also without being able to go free. Prior, the bill had said the defendant could be held without limitation if they have semi-annual competency reviews.

The new bill would provide clarification that an incompetent defendant in capital murder cases will not be allowed to be released unless under a court order.

The changes come after an appeal from Martinez’s lawyer which argued that Martinez’s indefinite treatment was against the law because he is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed the appeal in December 2018 stating they did not have jurisdiction over the matter and that it should be determined in a jurisdiction’s circuit court.

In that appeal, Tim Clancy, Martinez’s attorney, argued Martinez’s competency restoration efforts, such as teaching him sign language, were educational in nature and therefore were not a proper interpretation of Virginia Code.

Previously, Commonwealth’s Attorney Nate Green noted the efforts were not required to be medical in nature.

Neither Clancy nor Green were immediately available for comment.

In the bill, language has been changed to clarify it applies not only to incompetent defendants charged with capital murder, but specifically to those deemed “unrestorably incompetent.”

In addition, where the code previously stated the defendant will receive continued treatment, the bill would be changed to specify that a defendant would receive continued “medically appropriate” treatment.

Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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