Monday, December 10, 2007

Court to Rule on Acting As Own Lawyer

From the Austin-American Statesman, December 7, 2007:

"The Supreme Court said Friday it will review whether a defendant who is judged competent to stand trial has the right to be his own lawyer, even if he has a history of serious mental illness.
Ahmad Edwards was convicted of attempted murder and other charges in 2005 following a shooting at an Indianapolis department store in 1999.

He was initially found to be schizophrenic and suffering from delusions and spent most of the five years following the shooting in state psychiatric facilities. But by 2005, he was judged competent to stand trial.

Edwards asked to represent himself, but a judge denied the request because he was concerned that Edwards' trial would not be fair. Edwards, represented by a lawyer, was convicted anyway and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

He appealed and Indiana courts agreed that his right to represent himself had been violated, citing a U.S. high court decision from 1993. The courts overturned his conviction and ordered a new trial.
State Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm said the judge's determination that Edwards' schizophrenia made him incapable of defending himself seemed "at a minimum, reasonable." But, Boehm said, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "competency to represent oneself at trial is measured by competency to stand trial."

Criminal defendants may be ruled competent to stand trial if they understand the proceedings and are capable of assisting their lawyer. The justices said they will consider in the Edwards case whether states may impose a higher standard for measuring a defendant's competency to be his own lawyer than when determining he is competent to stand trial. Arguments probably will take place in March.

The court recently saw an aspect of this dilemma in the case of Scott Panetti, a mentally ill killer from Texas who was nonetheless judged competent to stand trial and allowed to represent himself.
Panetti was convicted and sentenced to death after personally arguing that only an insane person could prove the insanity defense. He dressed in cowboy clothing and submitted an initial witness list that included Jesus Christ and John F. Kennedy. The court blocked his execution in June, in a ruling that did not address his role in his own defense.

The new case is Indiana v. Edwards, 07-208."

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