Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

MURDER-RAPE-ROBBERY TRIAL OF PHILIP CHISM IS OFF TO A BUMPY START IN SALEM SUPERIOR COURT

16-year-old Philip Chism (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) is having all sorts of trouble in Salem Superior Court, according to the Boston.com

As if being charged with rape and murder were not enough, the judge overseeing his trial has found that he is competent to stand trial. He apparently tried to find a way out of the trial earlier this week, by refusing to enter the courtroom.

That did not prevent the continuing of the trial either.

You remember the Defendant. He stands accused of murder, rape and robbery in the stabbing death of his Danvers High School teacher, Colleen Ritzer, on Oct. 22, 2013.

When the trial began, the defense claimed that the Defendant was not competent to stand trial. Defense counsel said that her client was twitching, mumbling and saying he was about to explode as he sat in a holding cell just outside the courtroom. The judge then took a brief recess to observe the Defendant himself. Apparently, he saw the Defendant laying on the floor of the cell, muttering with his eyes closed, and wouldn’t respond to anyone’s questions.

This was not the first time in the Defendant’s case that such a scene took place.

Last month, during jury selection, the Defendant had refused to enter the courtroom and told a psychologist that he was hearing voices and wanted to die. He was given a 20-day competency evaluation in Worcester by Dr. Virginia Merritt.

During the evaluation, the Defendant was diagnosed with a psychotic disorder and put on medication. his attorney said.

After a hearing following the evaluation, the judge deemed the Defendant competent to stand trial.

Given the earlier difficulties, the court requested that Dr. Merritt perform another, albeit shorter, examination of the Defendant regarding his competency.

This time, defense counsel was in a sensitive position. She found it necessary to agree with the Commonwealth about the Defendant’s being competent to stand trial.

Next, on the issue of the Defendant’s refusal to enter the courtroom, counsel tried to honor what seemed to be her client’s wishes. She sought to waive his presence at the trial.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation was not what the Defendant might’ve thought. The Defendant’s refusal to attend would not prevent the trial from taking place. He would, in effect, just be waiving being present.

Once the judge explained this to him, the Defendant opted to accompany his lawyer into Trialland.

Testimony for the trial itself began yesterday.

The Defendant has pleaded Not Guilty by reason of insanity in this matter. He has apparently admitted performing the actions for which he has been charged. He indicates, however, that he was in the midst of a psychotic break when he performed them.

<strong>Attorney Sam’s Take On Competency Vs. Insanity

“Hey, Sam, how can he say he was insane if the judge has found that he is not insane already?”

The two concepts are completely different. The first has to do with the time of the crime. It has to do with his ability at the time to distinguish right from wrong. Whether he could appreciate the nature of his actions.

The second is whether or not the Defendant is competent to assist in his own defense at the time of trial. The general test focuses on whether the Defendant understands, or has a basic knowledge of who the entities at that trial are. For example, does he understand what the judge does. Does he know who his attorney is and what his role is.

“Well…the Defendant’s behavior does seem weird…!”

Yes. But that is not the test. Further, the Commonwealth argues that he is putting on an act. I am sure they would point to the fact that when the Defendant was addressed by the court, he seemed to understand and he made the right decision.

Shorthand? Just because your eyes are closed does not mean that they cannot see you.

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