A California State Appeals Court judged that authorities are not allowed to imprison criminals in jails for months if they have been determined to be mentally incompetent to stand trial.

On Tuesday, a panel of the First District Court of Appeal voted 3-0 to uphold a lower court order from 2019. The order gave a 28-day deadline to states to put defendants in state mental hospitals or other treatment facilities after they are considered mentally incompetent to stand trial because of psychological or intellectual disabilities.

Incompetent to Stand Trial

Additionally, the ruling includes people who have previously been charged with certain felony sex offenses. The decision opposes an exception put in place by an earlier Alameda County ruling. The phase-in period the previous ruling put in place is scheduled to end next year.

Under state law, defendants who are facing criminal charges but are judged mentally incompetent to face trial can be placed into psychological or mental facilities to provide treatment. The process aims to make them better become competent to stand trial and understand proceedings.

In 2017, defendants waited an average of 86 days after a judge issued the transfer order to be admitted into a hospital, the appellate court said. California has long been systematically violating the due-process rights of the defendants by keeping them locked up for longer than necessary. They argued it could cause further problems because of how many people are placed in prisons together, Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline said.

About 4,000 people who are declared incompetent to stand trial each year are put on a waitlist for admission to proper facilities due to a lack of space. During the coronavirus pandemic, the list for admission to state hospitals increased by more than 1,600 people. The number represents an increase of 500% compared to the statistics in 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union said, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“The court recognized that California cannot continue to warehouse people in jail for months at a time while it denies them both their right to a trial and the mental health treatment they need to become competent to have a trial, Michael Risher, counsel for the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, said.