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Murder Conviction Reversed: Incompetent To Stand Trial

In re Sims Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: E075363 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: August 11, 2021. Petitioner Karen Sims, a former attorney with long standing history of mental illness, was convicted of murdering her husband Henry Sims in 2006 and was sentenced to prison for a term of 50 years to life. After her conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal in 2008, she petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to the California Supreme Court in 2011, on the ground her conviction was invalid because she was incompetent to stand trial. An order to show cause (OSC) was issued by the Supreme Court, returnable to the Riverside County Superior Court, but was denied. In 2016, petitioner again sought habeas relief, petitioning the Supreme Court, but with additional information about her postconviction mental health problems as they related to timeliness. The California Supreme Court again issued an OSC, this time returnable to the Court of Appeal. The appellate granted the petition and remanded the matter again to the superior court for an evidentiary hearing, where it specified that counsel should present the testimony of Michael DeFrank, as well as any expert witnesses or mental health professionals who were aware of defendant’s mental health condition during the period between August and December 2006, or such other evidence as may constitute substantial evidence of defendant’s incompetence to stand trial. On remand, the court heard the testimony of petitioner’s trial counsel, which it found lacking in credibility, and that of petitioner, and denied the petition once again. This petition followed. The State argued that the court properly found the testimony of petitioner’s trial counsel lacked credibility and argued the Court of Appeal's previous remand order did not require the superior court to readdress petitioner’s claim that she was incompetent to stand trial. The Court of Appeal granted the petition and reversed the judgment of conviction. Defendant could be retried on the charges for which she was convicted if she was competent to stand trial.

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