A Stanislaus County Superior Court judge on Monday ruled that criminal proceedings against Paulo Virgen Mendoza, who is accused of killing Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh, will remain suspended until the process of evaluating Mendoza’s mental competency has concluded.
But Judge Ricardo Cordova also expressed concern that holding a competency hearing in open court will divulge details of a now-sealed doctor’s report that could impact the case and possibly violate attorney-client confidentiality.
Cordova may schedule that competency hearing this morning (Thursday) when the matter is scheduled to come back to his courtroom.
The question of Mendoza’s competency to understand the charges against him and assist in his defense was initially raised by defense attorney Stephen Foley in early January. Foley said that his concerns were based on a brief conversation with the defendant before Mendoza’s initial court appearance.
Foley later told the court that his doubts surrounding Mendoza’s competency had been satisfied and asked that Judge Cordova halt the competency evaluation and reinstate the criminal proceedings.
But prosecutors objected, contending that once a question of competency has been raised it cannot be simply withdrawn without completing due process.
Their arguments were raised once again on Monday.
Foley argued in favor of terminating the competency process, saying that he had raised the question initially and had since withdrawn his concerns. He is comfortable, Foley said, that his client does understand the proceedings against him and can assist in his defense.
“My doubt has been removed,” he asserted, asking that Mendoza, who was initially booked under the alias Gustavo Perez Arriaga, be declared competent to face charges and that his murder trial proceed.
The judge, however, said he cannot rule on competency without taking into consideration the doctor’s report. Foley has taken issue with that report.
Deputy District Attorney Jeff Mangar, who is prosecuting the case, argued that due process requires the competency evaluation be fully completed, which includes an evaluation by mental health experts and submission of a report to the court.
Failure to fully complete the competency determinatino process, he told Judge Cordova, may jeopardize the outcome of the case if a conviction is appealed on the grounds of competency.
“If we later get a conviction, we don’t want that conviction overturned on the basis of what happens here today,” Mangar stated.
Judge Cordova has previously indicated that the doctor’s report contains only limited information about Mendoza’s account of what transpired in the early morning hours of Dec. 26, when he is accused of shooting and killing Singh during a traffic stop.
But he also voiced worries Monday that discussion of some of the report details in open court may cause issues with the case and defendant’s rights.
Cordova reportedly offered to issue a ruling based on the doctor’s report, without discussion of its details.
Foley, however, declined to stipulate to the contents of the report, saying that he had concerns “not just with what was said but how the doctor reached her conclusion.”
The parties will return to the courtroom today (Thursday) to determine next steps in the process.