Court of Appeals of Alaska (2022)
In Victor v. State, 516 P.3d 506 (Alaska Ct. App. 2022), the court of appeals held that the State is not required to show a criminal defendant is competent before re-instating charges which were previously dismissed without prejudice because of a finding that the defendant lacked competency. (Id. at 509). Victor was a criminal defendant whose charges were dismissed without prejudice based on the superior court’s finding that he lacked competency to stand trial. (Id. at 510–11). Victor was civilly committed. (Id. at 511). Fourteen months after the commitment, the State filed a motion asking the superior court to order the Alaska Psychiatric Institute to disclose Victor’s treatment records for purposes of evaluating Victor’s competency. (Id. at 511–12). When Victor’s attorney claimed the superior court no longer had subject matter or personal jurisdiction over the case, the State altered its position and opened a new criminal case against Victor instead. (Id.). Victor’s attorney argued that re-initiating the charges was unlawful without first presenting the court with proof that Victor was competent to stand trial. (Id.). The superior court ruled that the State was empowered to re-initiate the charges without any prior judicial screening, and that any issue of competency must be raised after the re-filing. (Id.). The court of appeals affirmed, finding that the relevant statutory procedures applied both to the initial and any subsequent challenges to a criminal defendant’s competency to stand trial. (Id. at 514). The court reasoned that the dismissal without prejudice due to a lack of competency functioned as a stay rather than a dismissal, and that the superior court retained subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the case. (Id. at 519). Because the State did not need to re-assert jurisdiction, all it had to do to revive the charges was to file notice with the court; in Victor’s case, the filing of new criminal charges was enough to signal to the court that the State planned to resume litigation. (Id. at 522). The court declined to create a rule that the State must show proof of competency after re-instating previous charges but before litigation ensues, because the State in this case would have met any hypothetical burden. (Id. at 525). Affirming the lower court’s decision, the supreme court held that, when re-instating criminal charges previously dismissed without prejudice based on the defendant’s lack of competency to stand trial, the State need not prove competency prior to litigation. (Id. at 509).