Questions of competency could affect La Crosse court case

A Minnesota man who was previously ruled incompetent before being considered competent in court is now facing new charges. Because of the change, he was out on bond when the alleged crimes occurred.

Legal experts explain the question of competency focuses on a person’s ability to understand how the court system works and aid in their own defense. Both the defense and prosecution can question a defendant’s competency.

“Once it’s raised, the court orders a doctor to perform an evaluation to see if they are competent to stand trial,” said La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke.

Sometimes, a court-ordered doctor finds the defendant not competent, but may be able to restore competency through medication in cases of mental illness.

“Often times, what happens is, they end up going to a state mental hospital– Mendota [or] Winnebago. That can be anywhere from six weeks to a year,” said Keith Belzer, a defense attorney for Belzer, Schroeder and Lough. Belzer is not involved in the defense of Daniel Lexvold, who is accused of the new crimes.

But the district attorney says it can be a challenge for people in jail to get treatment.

“The lack of available mental health services is definitely a problem for our system because there are many people in our system that are suffering from mental health problems,” Gruenke said.

Without proper treatment, the defendant might not be able to restore competency and the case could be suspended.

“Not dismissed, but suspended. And if in some point in the future, people do regain competency, they can be re-examined,” Gruenke said.

In the case of Daniel Lexvold, if his attorney argues he has become not competent again while out on bond, that couldn’t be used as a defense. But they do have another option.

“Not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect says at the time of the alleged crime, you either didn’t know what you were doing because of mental illness or cognitive disability or you weren’t able to control yourself,” Belzer said.

Daniel Lexvold’s next hearing is scheduled for April 5.