It’s a basic tenet of our fundamental fairness within our criminal justice system that a criminal defendant needs to be competent to assist in his or her own defense. Because of this, California has long held that a person cannot be tried or “adjudged to punishment while that person is mentally incompetent.” Should the judge, prosecutor or defense attorney have a basis for believing the defendant is not competent to stand trial, a procedure has been put in place wherein criminal proceedings are suspended while the defendant is evaluated for competency, the underlying issues are identified, and, wherever possible, restored to competency. Prior to 2022, this restoration to competency was legally allowed to include involuntary antipsychotic medication in all cases.
After the passage of SB 317, however, the portion of the law regarding the restoration of competency for a person charged with a misdemeanor or a violation of probation for a misdemeanor has been repealed, including the provisions regarding administration for antipsychotic medication. Instead, the court is still authorized to have the defendant evaluated for competency, but now must either grant mental health diversion or dismiss the charges if the defendant is found to be incompetent and cannot be restored to competence without involuntary medication. If the person can be restored to company through counseling or voluntary medication, the court is to refer the defendant for evaluation by the County Public Health Director for “a written recommendation as to whether the defendant should be required to undergo outpatient treatment, or committed to a treatment facility.”
SB 317 also assures that anytime the defendant spends in a mental health treatment facility pending their return of mental competency are credited against any potential jail sentence at the same rate other “good conduct credits” are awarded for time spent in “confined in or committed to a county jail, industrial farm, or road camp, or a city jail, industrial farm, or road camp.”
Often when a person digs into the reasoning behind the enactment of any certain law, they find a solid, commonsense reason which justifies a limitation of the citizenry’s freedom. …But sometimes the reason just makes you laugh. According to an article published in LA Weekly in 2012, California criminalized the possession of nunchucks (as defined in Penal Code section 16940 as “an instrument consisting of two or more sticks, clubs, bars, or rods to be used as handles, connected by a rope, cord, wire, or chain, in the design of a weapon used in connection with the practice of a system of self-defense such as karate”)—to the tune of making it a felony—in 1974 in response to the sudden rise in the public’s interest in martial arts films, noting that at that time “the United States was in the kung-fu grip of a martial arts craze. Sparked by the 1973 release of Bruce Lee's Enter The Dragon and spurred by such pop phenomena as the TV series Kung Fu and the song “Kung Fu Fighting,” martial arts fever was spiking, along with a faddish interest in martial arts weapons.
“Menaced by the trend, Newsweek published a sensational article on nunchucks, called “Killing Sticks.” The article's alarm bells prompted lawmakers around the country to contemplate bans, but only New York, Massachusetts, Arizona and California followed through, with then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signing California's bill into law.”
The following year, a small exception was carved out of the law, allowing the possession of the “weapons” at a martial arts academy.
In 2022, however, via the passage of SB 827, California finally did away with the prohibition of the possession of these “weapons” be removing reference to nunchaku in the list of “generally prohibited weapons” within the state and from the list of crimes from which a Plaintiff may bring an action of enjoin as being a nuisance.
If you are being charged with a weapons-based offense in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area and need to consult with an attorney, feel free to reach out to Devina.
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