Friday, March 28, 2008

Scott Panetti Deemed Competent to Be Executed

AFP reports that Judge Sam Sparks once again has found Scott Panetti competent to be executed ("Schizophrenic death row man in Texas on path to execution," March 27, 2008). The judge ruled that Panetti possessed sufficient rational understanding of the reason for his execution. Panetti believes that the state seeks his execution in order to prevent him from preaching the gospel in prison.

Here's the article:

"A schizophrenic inmate in Texas is again on the path to execution after a federal judge pronounced him sufficiently rational to understand why he has been sentenced to death.

In 1986 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a convict could be executed only if that person realized that he or she was going to die, and understood why.

Scott Panetti, 50, was sentenced to die for a double homicide he acknowledged having committed.

But the Supreme Court in June blocked his execution and ordered judges in Austin, Texas to determine if Panetti realized that he was to be executed as punishment for the murder of his in-laws.

Federal Judge Sam Sparks in Austin, Texas gathered evidence from experts, prison cell mates, prison guards, and friends and relatives of Panetti to better understand the convict's mental state.

'Panetti was mentally ill when he committed his crime and continues to be mentally ill today,' read Sparks' opinion, issued Wednesday.

'However, he has both a factual and rational understanding of his crime, his impending death, and the causal retributive connection between the two.

'Therefore, if any mentally ill person is competent to be executed for his crimes, this record establishes it is Scott Panetti,' Sparks wrote.

In September 1992, Panetti, who had previously been hospitalized for serious schizophrenic problems, murdered his parents in-law.

A judge ruled that he was competent to stand trial, and he was allowed to represent himself in the case.

Dressed as a cowboy, in his trial Panetti called on Jesus Christ, the late U.S. president John F. Kennedy and the late Pope John Paul II as witnesses. His statements were laced with delirious and incomprehensible monologues."

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Coverage of Arguments in Indiana v. Edwards

Oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Indiana v. Edwards took place yesterday, March 27, 2008. According to scotusblog, "The core issue in Indiana v. Edwards (07-208) is whether states are constitutionally free to require that accused individuals have a higher level of mental capacity to represent themselves than is required for them simply to be put on trial with a lawyer at their side. As the lawyer for the state pressed for a two-level standard, most of the Court reacted with skepticism, first, about how to define a workable two-level test, and, second, about how that would complicate actua ltrials. Underlying much of the oral argument was a deep perplexity over how to conduct fair trials for persons with sub-standard mental capacity."

Read the full analysis from scotusblog.

Here's an excerpt from the New York Times ("Court Looks at Legal Role for Mentally Ill"):

"Addressing the justices, the Indiana solicitor general, Thomas M. Fisher, said the judge was 'justified in requiring a higher level of competency for self-representation in order to prevent the trial of Ahmad Edwards from descending into a farce.'

Justice Antonin Scalia, the member of the court who takes the broadest view of various rights under the Sixth Amendment, challenged Mr. Fisher to explain why the judge could not have waited to see how Mr. Edwards would actually handle himself.

'By waiting to see if in fact he will turn the trial into a farce,' Justice Scalia said, 'you avoid the risk of depriving him of his right to represent himself, which is certainly a very important constitutional right.'
Justice Scalia had a similar exchange with Michael R. Dreeben, a deputy United States solicitor general, who argued for the federal government on Indiana's behalf. Mr. Dreeben said the court should not adhere to a rigid rule that would 'force the state to have the train wreck occur when the evidence is very firm and reliable that it will occur.'

He said the state's interest lay in 'starting the trial from the beginning in a coherent and orderly way and not subjecting the defendant to the risk of an unfair trial based on the defendant's own incompetence.'

Justice Stephen G. Breyer was among the justices most sympathetic to the state's argument. Defendants representing themselves 'do surprisingly well,' Justice Breyer said, citing a study noted in a brief filed by the American Psychiatric Association. But, he added, 'there is a small subclass' of defendants who fare badly on their own.

Why not have 'a rule which permitted a state to deal with this subclass of disturbed people who want to represent themselves?' Justice Breyer asked Mark T. Stancil, the lawyer for Mr. Edwards. 'This is a perfect instance where the states should experiment.' Mr. Stancil replied that such an approach 'undermines the fundamental premise of the Sixth Amendment, which is it's his defense.'

He offered examples of his client's evident understanding of the proceedings. That provoked a dismissive comment from Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who said, 'There are all kinds of nuts who could get 90 percent on the bar exam.'

The standard for competence to stand trial, formulated in a 1960 Supreme Court decision, Dusky v. United States, is fairly basic. It requires that a defendant have 'sufficient present ability to consult with lawyer with areasonable degree of rational understanding' and a 'rational as well as a factual understanding of the proceedings against him.'

Mr. Fisher, the Indiana solicitor general, said the standard for competency to represent oneself should require more, 'that it is within the state's authority to override this right where the defendant cannot communicate coherently with the court or the jury.'

To that, Justice Scalia responded: 'Cannot communicate coherently? I sometimes think that the lawyers cannot communicate coherently.'"

Additional coverage of the case is available from these media outlets:
Washington Post

Legal Times
Associated Press
USA Today
Indianopolis Star
National Public Radio ("Day to Day")

A transcript of the oral arguments is available at:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Op-Ed on the Issue of Self Representation

Jonathan Turley, a professor of law at George Washington University, comments on the Ahmad Edwards case (Indiana v. Edwards) in an op-ed that appeared today in the Los Angeles Times ("A fool and his lawyer," March 26, 2008). He too cites the case of Scott Panetti to illustrate the tremendous harm that can result when defendants' with severe mental illness are allowed to represent themselves.

Much of the commentary on the Edwards case thus far has focused on the low standards for competency to stand trial. According to Chapter 46B of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure:

“(a) A person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have:
1. sufficient present ability to consult with the person’s lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
2. a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against the person.

(b) A defendant is presumed competent to stand trial and shall be found competent to stand trial unless proved incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence.”

Competency relates to a defendant’s mental state at the time of trial, not at the time of the alleged crime. Incompetency is not a defense to the crime charged. Evidence that a defendant is suffering from a mental illness is not enough to establish that he or she is incompetent to stand trial.

Here are excerpts from Turley's op-ed:

"Less than 1% of felony prisoners represent themselves. Many do great harm to their own cases and suffer the consequences of such self-inflicted wounds. There are also costs to others. When Colin Ferguson killed six passengers and injured 19 others on the Long Island Rail Road in 1993, for example, he insisted on representing himself despite the clear evidence that he was a delusional psychopath. Yet he was deemed fit to stand trial under the extremely low standard of competency. The resulting bizarre trial mixed moments of mental clarity with total fantasies of mistaken identifies. Victims were forced to be cross-examined by the man who shot them as he tried toconvince them that they saw someone else on the train. He was found guilty.

In a case in Texas in 1995, Scott Louis Panetti was treated as competent for trial and proceeded to represent himself in his murder case. He was a lunatic who dressed as a cowboy in court, tried to subpoena Jesus and clearly traumatized his estranged wife, Sonja, in a cross-examination that forced her to relive the murders of her parents. A jury convicted Panetti in 90 minutes. (The Supreme Court in 1997 stayed his execution on insanity grounds.) [Ed. Note: The Court stayed his execution in 2007, not 1997.]

Notably, his treating psychiatrist, Dr. F.E. Seale, asked the most poignant question after Panetti's conviction: 'My God, how in the world can our legal system allow an insane man to defend himself?'

The answer can be found not in the twisted minds of these defendants but in our own twisted legal standards. We have been manipulating 'competence' for years to guarantee that mentally ill individuals can be tried. After John W. Hinckley Jr. was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the assassination attempt on President Reagan in 1981, enraged politicians ripped up existing insanity laws and replaced them with standards so low that even the most clearly insane defendants, such as Andrea Yates, who killed her five children in Texas in 2001, would be viewed as entirely competent to stand trial.

When these same individuals then invoke their right to self-representation, however, we are caught in a trap of our own making.

Obviously, we are embarrassed when the people we seek to execute or imprison are so mentally incompetent that they make a farce out of a proceeding. Thus, judges seek ways to find them sane enough to execute or imprison -- but incompetent to argue their own cases. This is what happened in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, who proved to be a barking lunatic before his terrorism trial. The court found him competent to stand trial but denied him the right to represent himself. (His appeal of that decision is pending in the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.)

There are relatively few major cases of self-representation, and most, like the Panetti and Edwards cases, would have been avoided by simply recognizing the defendants' incompetence to stand trial in the first place.

Rather than address the ridiculously low standard for competence to stand trial, many now want the Supreme Court to raise the standard for self-representation. But by imposing skill and educational requirements, courts could force many defendants to have others speak for them while they are expected to pay the costs of any resulting verdict.

If we insist on ignoring the mental illness of our defendants, then we should live with the untidy and unpleasant results.

Read the op-ed in its entirety.

More on Self Representation

Here's more on the case of Ahmad Edwards, from the National Law Journal (March 17, 2008, "Right to counsel probed by justices"). The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments on the case today.

"Ahmad Edwards was arrested in July 1999 when, after resisting apprehension by a security guard for shoplifting shoes, he drew and fired a gun, injuring an onlooker.

During the next five years, courts found him not competent to stand trial and ordered treatment for his psychosis until 2004, when he was found competent.

At trial and at a later retrial, Edwards sought to represent himself. Although the trial court found his waiver of his right to counsel to be timely, knowing and voluntary - as required by Supreme Court decisions - it rejected his requests. The court concluded that his long history of delusions, schizophrenia, communications problems and related problems made him incapable of self-representation. Edwards was then tried with court-appointed counsel, convicted and sentenced to 30 years.

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed Edwards' convictions. While expressing sympathy for the trial judge's reasoning and the state's arguments, the court said that the U.S. Supreme Court had held in two cases that the standard for competency to represent oneself can be nothing more than competency to stand trial. Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975); Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S.389 (1993).

In the high court, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argues that the Sixth Amendment right to self-representation is not absolute.

Faretta and its progeny, he argues, allow courts to counterbalance the demand for self-representation with the need to preserve a fair trial.

For example, Fisher notes, courts may impose counsel on disruptive defendants, and standby counsel on any defendant who seeks self-representation.

Indiana, he said, proposes a 'clear communication rule' in self-representation demands. 'A trial court may deny a criminal defendant the right to represent himself at trial where the defendant cannot communicate coherently with the court or a jury,' he said.

If this court finds this proposed rule inconsistent with Faretta, Fisher argues, the court should consider overruling Faretta, because 'as the dissenting opinions of Chief Justice Burger and Justice Blackmun in Faretta make clear, a right to self representation is without solid textual, structural, or historical foundation.'

Supporting Indiana, the Criminal Justice Foundation's [Kent] Scheidegger said, 'States should have some leeway [in these types of cases] and not have to walk a tightrope where a little tilt in either direction tips you over the edge.'

Under the current rule, he said, appellate courts can find reversible error whichever way a judge rules.

States here are not seeking to regulate the Sixth Amendment right, but to extinguish it for a particular class of people, said Edwards' high court counsel, Mark T. Stancil of Washington's Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber.

If the prospect of prosecuting an impaired defendant, he said, offends a state's sense of fairness, it can raise its standard for competency to stand trial.

Faretta made clear that the Sixth Amendment protects the defendant's choice to proceed pro se. The states, he said, want the high court to give them the choice of imposing a higher standard, of deciding which defendants can exercise the right and which cannot, even when a defendant has the capacity to make the decision.

'There is so much greater potential for strategic manipulation when states can make that choice,' said Stancil.

'At the end of the day, we think the Sixth Amendment is about defendants' rights. Whether it makes it harder or easier for the state to prosecute cases is beyond the point.'

The NACDL (National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers), in support of neither party, asks the court to step back from its rule that the standard for competency to stand trial is the same for competency to self-represent, and instead return to the common law standard.

'If someone has counsel, the question should be whether that person can assist counsel,' said Kevin Martin of Boston's Goodwin Procter. 'But if there is no counsel, ask if the defendant is competent to go forward on his own. If someone is not competent to represent himself, you no longer have to ask, 'Can we force counsel on him?' because he doesn't go to trial in the first place."'

It is a 'very complicated' issue, added Martin, noting that the competency standard is almost a half-century old 'and we still struggle with it.'"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should Inmates with Severe Mental Illness Be Allowed to Represent Themselves?

Tomorrow, March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the case of Ahmad Edwards, a man with a history of mental illness who was found competent to stand trial but was not allowed to represent himself as he requested. Numerous death penalty cases have involved issues related to competency to stand trial; the Scott Panetti case in particular (cited in the article below) raises the issue of self representation by those with long histories of mental illness.

Here are excerpts from an article that appeared last week in USA Today ("High court to consider self-representation"):

"When Ahmad Edwards appealed his conviction of attempted murder and other charges, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed Edwards had the right to represent himself and reversed his conviction.

The Indiana attorney general's office appealed, arguing that allowing mentally impaired defendants to represent themselves undermines fair trials and erodes public confidence in the system.

'The consequences often are disastrous for both the defendants and the integrity — not to mention dignity — of the criminal justice system,' the Indiana attorney general's office wrote in its brief to the court.

Indiana's position is backed by the Justice Department, 19 other states and the American Bar Association.

Edwards' lawyer counters that the right to represent oneself gives the defendant power in the relationship with his attorney, and states should not have 'unfettered discretion' to place a higher standard on that right for certain defendants.

Since a 1993 Supreme Court ruling addressed the issue of the competency standards for waiving the right to counsel and pleading guilty, at least 60 legally competent but mentally impaired defendants have tried to represent themselves, according to the state.

In 1995, a Texas man defending himself on capital murder charges tried to subpoena Jesus, wore a cowboy outfit to court, and assumed an alternative personality when testifying.

In another case, Colin Ferguson was convicted in 1995 of killing six passengers on the Long Island Railroad after representing himself with the unsuccessful argument that someone else took the gun from his bag and shot the passengers.

Erica Hashimoto, a University of Georgia law school professor who conducted the first comprehensive study of felony defendants who chose to represent themselves, said they represent significantly less than 1% of all felony defendants. About 20% of the federal felony defendants she examined showed signs of mental illness.

And while there are different ways of determining the success of defendants representing themselves in state and federal courts, the bottom line is 'they certainly did not lose all of their cases at trial,' she said.

'To the extent that the states are worried about too many people representing themselves who are mentally ill, I think that's a product of the fact that our standard for competency to stand trial is so low,' she said. 'Once we say a defendant is competent to stand trial, I think it's dangerous to say that he is entitled to less rights than another defendant.' ..."


"The Supreme Court said in the 1975 case Faretta v. California that defendants have a constitutional right to waive counsel at trial if doing so voluntarily and intelligently.

In the 1993 case Godinez v. Moran, the court said the standard for determining competency to stand trial — whether the defendant can understand the proceedings and assist in his defense — is the same standard for waiving the right to counsel and pleading guilty.

Indiana argues that some courts have interpreted that decision to mean that the self-representation standard can't be lower than competency to stand trial, but it can be higher.

In Wisconsin, for example, the state Supreme Court has said trial judges can deny self-representation based on the defendant's education, literacy, fluency in English as well as physical or psychological disabilities.

Edwards' lawyer said Indiana is exaggerating the split in the courts on the issue, and the Supreme Court has already settled that it's the defendant's choice, not his skill, that determines self-representation."

Read the full article.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"The Prison Show"

Last week while in Houston, I had the privilege of appearing on Ray Hill's "The Prison Show", which has been broadcast on Houston Pacifica radio station KPFT 90.1 FM weekly since March 1980. Here's a description of the program:

"During the first hour of the program, Ray and the gang, and occasionally a special guest, discuss related current issues and review the week's mailbag. In the second hour, we receive calls from the listeners that make the show so special, as they connect to talk to their family members, friends and loved ones within the Texas prisons, and somehow form together to become one large family through their common experience. Texas does not permit inmates to have access to telephones or the web. So for many, 'The Prison Show' is the only way an inmate can hear the voice of his friends and relatives between the rare visits."

Ray and I discussed various issues related to mental illness and the death penalty. You can listen to the broadcast by visiting - under "Miss a Show?" click on March 14. Those outside the Houston listening area can tune in to the show every Friday night at 9:00 PM CST by streaming from your computer.

Thanks so much to Ray and the gang for hosting me!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Updates on Federal Legislation re Mental Illness

From the Criminal Justice/Mental Health Consensus Project:

"On March 6, 2008, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee passed S. 2304, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Reauthorization and Improvement Act (MIOTCRA). The legislation, introduced last year by Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), will now be sent to the Senate floor for consideration.

The bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in January with overwhelming bipartisan support, will help provide states and counties with the resources needed to design and implement collaborative efforts between the criminal justice and mental health systems. The legislation offers grants to communities to develop diversion programs, mental health treatments in jails and prisons, and transition and aftercare services to facilitate reentry into the community. The bill also provides for the cross-training of criminal justice, law enforcement and mental health personnel.

With bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, the legislation will raise the authorization level of MIOTCRA from $50 million per year to $75 million per year and will extend the authorization through 2014. The bill will also reauthorize the Mental Health Courts grant program (Public Law 106-515) and will require that a study be conducted on the prevalence of mental illness in prisons and jails."

More information is available from the Consensus Project.

Earlier posts on the MIOTCRA are available here and here.

And last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Second Chance Act (H.R. 1593) by unanimous consent. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the legislation last fall. The legislation would provide transitional assistance to ex-offenders in an effort to reduce a return to alcohol abuse. Additionally, the legislation would extend and provide a full continuum of care for treatment of substance use disorders and improve mental health screening and treatment.

"It is a national tragedy that jails and prisons have become the primary mental health care facilities in the United States today," said American Psychiatric Association President Carolyn Robinowitz, M.D. "This bi-partisan action represents significant steps forward in improving access to mental health services and substance abuse treatment programs for those incarcerated within the prison system."

Read the press release issued by the American Psychiatric Association.

Psychological Evaluation Ordered for John Rubio

Here's an update on the case of John Rubio, from the Houston Chronicle ("Mental tests for man accused in slayings," March 14, 2008):

"A man accused of killing and beheading his common-law wife's three children should undergo a psychological evaluation but not tests to determine if he's mentally retarded, a judge has ordered.

Judge Arturo Cisneros Nelson also issued a gag order Wednesday in the retrial of John Allen Rubio, 27, who was convicted in 2003 of smothering, stabbing and mutilating the children, ages 3, 1 and 2 months old.

The mental tests were requested by Rubio's attorneys.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Rubio's conviction [and death sentence] last year because his defense did not get to cross-examine his common-law wife and co-defendant, Angela Camacho, during trial.

Camacho is serving a life sentence for her role in the March 2003 killing of the children.
The Cameron County District Attorney's Office has subpoenaed interview notes, videos, letters and an unedited interview with Camacho from KRGV-TV of Weslaco. A reporter from the station interviewed Camacho in October."

Though he confessed to the killings, Rubio pled not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) at his original trial and claimed he killed the children because they were possessed by demons. The jury rejected his defense and sentenced him to death.

Now awaiting his new trial, Rubio has been placed on suicide watch at the Carrizalez-Rucker Detention Centers infirmary.

Cameron County (Brownsville) District Attorney Armando Villalobos has indicated that he plans to seek the death penalty again for Rubio.

TN Death Row Inmate Receives New Trial

On March 7, 2008, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction and death sentence of Richard Taylor. The court's ruling grants Taylor a new trial due to a variety of constitutional errors at his original trial. These errors include the denial of his constitutional right to counsel at a pre-trial competency hearing, the failure of the trial court to hold a competency hearing during the trial, and the failure of the trial court to appoint advisory counsel. Taylor, who is severely mentally ill, was permitted to represent himself at trial, despite significant questions about his competency. [Source: Death Penalty Information Center]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has represented Taylor in the appeal of his conviction. Here are excerpts from the ACLU's press release:

"In 2003, Taylor, who was schizophrenic, delusional and heavily sedated by forced medication, faced his two-day capital trial alone – representing himself without even standby counsel to help him. Wearing prison garb and sunglasses, Taylor called no witnesses, introduced no evidence, and presented no defense. The few cross-examination questions he posed during the guilt-innocence phase of his trial were delusional, and he was completely silent during the sentencing phase of the proceedings. The jury that sentenced Taylor to death was never presented with compelling evidence of Taylor's difficult childhood, suicide attempts, psychiatric hospitalizations or severe mental illness." ...

"The ACLU mounted numerous legal challenges to the trial and proceedings leading up to it, including the judge’s failure to hold a competency hearing during the trial when it was obvious that Taylor was incapable of standing trial and representing himself.

During a pre-trial hearing in which Taylor testified about why he should be allowed to represent himself, for example, Taylor made comments suggesting he believed he had previously died and come back to life, and that he alone was equipped to handle his capital trial. The appeals court faulted the trial court for concluding that Taylor knowingly and intelligently waived counsel when it accepted these statements without further questioning." ...

"Finally, the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that Taylor’s death sentence was imposed in an arbitrary manner given the fact that the jury was not instructed to consider the evidence of mental disease or defect at the penalty phase of his trial."

Read the ACLU press release in its entirety:

Read an earlier post on the Taylor case.

Additional information about this case, including a copy of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ruling can be found online at:

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Upcoming Presentations in Houston

This Thursday, March 13, 2008, at 6:00 PM, I will speak on the topic of “Prevention, Not Punishment: Prohibiting the Death Penalty for Offenders with Severe Mental Illness” at the Montrose Library, 4100 Montrose, Houston, Texas. Contact Nancy Bailey at 281-933-4925 for more information. This event is sponsored by the Houston Chapter of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

I also will serve as a guest speaker on Sunday, March 16, 2008 at 11:00 AM at the Unitarian Fellowship in Houston, 1504 Wirt Rd, Houston, Texas. That presentation is entitled “Executing the Mentally Ill: ‘Is This the Best Our Society Can Do?’” Contact Sarah Berel-Harrop at for details.

If you would like to schedule a presentation with your group or discuss other ideas for activities/programs on this issue, please contact me at or 512-441-1808.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Collaborative Grants Available

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), U.S. Department of Justice, has released its solicitation for fiscal year 2008 applications for Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program grants. The program was authorized by the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act of 2004 (MIOTCRA) and promotes coordination among criminal justice, juvenile justice, mental health, and substance abuse agencies.

The deadline for applications is May 6, 2008 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Visit the BJA website to download the applicant eligibility requirements, instructions on registering for the online grant application system, and other application materials.

Applicants should demonstrate a commitment to increasing public safety through innovative cross-system collaborations that improve responses to people with mental illnesses who come into contact with the criminal justice system. Eligible applicants are states, units of local government, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Likely Insanity Defense in Upcoming Death Penalty Trial

According to the Houston Chronicle ("Insanity plea likely in officer's shooting death," March 6, 2008), Juan Quintero, the man facing a capital murder charge in the 2006 shooting death of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson, might plead not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). The district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty for Quintero, a Mexican citizen who was deported from the United States by federal authorities, following his 1998 conviction for the state offense of indecency with a child and the imposition of a probationary sentence; Quintero illegally returned to the country in 1999. Robert Lane Camp, the owner of Camp Landscaping, Deer Park, has been charged by criminal complaint with encouraging Quintero to unlawfully enter the United States and with harboring him.

More from the Chronicle:

"Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley said she received notice that attorneys for Juan Leonardo Quintero plan to call a mental health professional to testify about Quintero's state of mind at a pre-trial hearing later this month. The trial is set to begin in April, at which time Quintero will be arraigned by the judge and enter a plea.

Bradley said the district attorney's office is seeking the death penalty in the case, which unfolded after officer Rodney Johnson stopped a truck owned by a landscaping company for a traffic violation. He arrested Quintero after the man could not provide a driver's license.

As Johnson wrote up his report in the front seat of his police car, investigators said, Quintero pulled a pistol overlooked in a body search and shot Johnson four times in the head from the back seat.

In a pre-trial hearing Thursday, prosecutors said Quintero fired eight shots, at least one of which was directed at a tow truck driver who had been dispatched to the scene to tow Quintero's truck.

State District Judge Joan Campbell ruled Thursday that a ballistics expert would be allowed to testify for the prosecution, and a psychologist, who is an expert in acute stress disorder, can testify for the defense.

The psychologist, Kris Mohandie, is expected to testify about the state of mind of the officers who first arrived on the scene and inconsistencies in their reports about what happened, not Quintero's state of mind.

A second mental health professional is expected to be called for another pre-trial hearing next week.
Quintero's lawyer, Danalynn Recer, declined to comment after the hearing.

A possible insanity defense came as no surprise to members of the Houston Police Officer's Union, said Mark Clark, the union's executive director.

"We don't agree with it, but we understand it," Clark said. "The defense lawyer is going to pull out all the stops because of what is at stake here."

He said he has full faith and confidence that Quintero will be sentenced to die for the murder of a peace officer, an offense eligible for the death penalty."
According to Section 8.01 of the Texas Penal Code, “insanity is an affirmative defense to prosecution that, at the time of the conduct charged, the actor, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong. The term ‘mental disease or defect’ does not include an abnormality manifested by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.” Although it does not specify, the “wrong” referred to in the statute means legally wrong.

Insanity must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence. Less than one percent of all defendants raise the insanity defense; of these, even fewer defendants are found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. (Psychiatric Times, April, 2002) In approximately 80 percent of the cases where a defendant has been found “not guilty by reason of insanity,” the prosecution and defense have agreed on the appropriateness of the plea before trial.

Texas juries are not informed of the consequences to the defendant if they return a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

For more information on the insanity defense, go to

Monday, March 3, 2008

Experts Study Neuroscience Use in Courts

That's the title of an article from the Associated Press, which appeared March 2, 2008 in The Washington Post:

"When Peter Braunstein was put on trial last year for a twisted Halloween torture attack, his lawyers used a visual aid to suggest that his actions were the product of mental illness.

It was a scan of the defendant's brain. A doctor testified that the patterns it revealed indicated that Braunstein, accused of donning a firefighter's costume and imprisoning a woman for 13 hours, suffered from schizophrenia.

The New York trial was one of a growing number of instances in which cutting-edge neuroscience has found its way into U.S. courts.

Brain scans have emerged as potentially powerful tools in battles over defendants' sanity. More defense attorneys are seeking scans showing brain damage or abnormalities that might have made it difficult for their clients to control violent impulses.

And experts say there is much more to come - including a few things that seem the stuff of science fiction. Within years, brain scans might be capable of serving as reliable lie detectors. Similar tests could potentially show whether a plaintiff in a personal injury case is really in pain, or faking it for sympathy, and brain images might even help jurors assess the reliability of a witness's memory.

However, some question whether the legal community might be moving too fast to embrace unproven technology.

'There is a danger here that the cart can get ahead of the horse if we're not careful,' said Dr. Marcus E. Raichle, a pioneering researcher of neurology and radiology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

While the potential of brain imaging is huge, he said, it may yet be a leap to claim that scans could be used to accurately detect lies,or say conclusively that a brain abnormality caused a specific person to become violent.

'As a general statement, we are probably not ready to have this in front of a jury,' Raichle said. 'It is probably premature, but that hasn't prevented it from happening.'

Figuring out just what types of neuroscience are ready for the courtroom is one of the goals of a $10 million Law & Neuroscience Project funded by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
The effort, which began this past fall, has brought together legal scholars and top scientists to examine the proper role of neuroscience in the legal system. ..."

The U.S. Supreme Court considered an amicus brief regarding brain development as part of its deliberation in Roper v. Simmons, the case in which the court banned the death penalty for juvenile offenders (those under age 18 at the time of the crime).
More information is available at:

Law & Neuroscience Project: http://
MacArthur Foundation:

Read the full article:

Thanks to Sandrine Ageorges for passing this along.