Law & Psychiatry: "A Fool for a Client?" Mental Illness and the Right of Self-Representation

Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York, NY 10032, USA.
Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.) (Impact Factor: 2.41). 11/2008; 59(10):1096-8. DOI: 10.1176/
Source: PubMed


Does the Constitution require a trial court to allow an obviously impaired man to represent himself? This column discusses the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Indiana v. Edwards, which allows states to limit a defendant's right to self-representation when the individual lacks the mental capacity to conduct a trial defense unless represented. Previous cases bearing on the decision are discussed, including Dusky v. U.S. in 1960, which set the standard for competence to stand trial; Faretta v. California in 1975, which established the right of criminal defendants to represent themselves; and Godinez v. Moran in 1993, which upheld the Dusky standard for trial-related competence.

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    ABSTRACT: In Indiana v. Edwards, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a higher standard may be required for pro se competence (PSC) than for competence to stand trial (CST). However, the Court refrained from elaborating a specific standard. The trial judge is in the best position to make more fine-tuned mental capacity decisions. This pilot study surveyed trial judges' opinions about PSC to help forensic evaluators structure their assessments. Eighteen of 400 New York State trial judges surveyed replied. Trial judges regarded disorders of cognitive impairment (n = 10) and psychosis (n = 4) to be potentially limiting for PSC. Responses relating to which domains should be assessed were heterogeneous, but the most common were intellectual and analytic abilities (n = 10), legal knowledge/experience (n = 9), and language abilities (n = 8). Several judges listed factors that are not traditionally part of CST evaluations, such as having a rational reason for proceeding pro se and a willingness to accept the assistance of standby counsel.
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    ABSTRACT: In Indiana v. Edwards (2008) the U.S. Supreme Court held that a higher standard may be required for pro se competence (PSC) than for competence to stand trial (CST), but provided little guidance for the trial court judge. This survey of forensic mental health experts studied potential PSC criteria. Sixty-eight (22.7%) forensic evaluators replied. Three McGarry criteria were reported as requiring a much higher standard for PSC: to appraise the available legal defenses (45.6%), to plan a legal strategy (51.5%), and to question and challenge witnesses (44.1%). Sixty percent agreed that standby counsel should be mandatory. Respondents opined that average abilities were sufficient for intelligence (77.9%), literacy (69.1%), and verbal ability (70.6%) were sufficient. PSC examiners may wish to assess appraisal of available legal defenses, planning a legal strategy, and questioning and challenging witnesses for a higher standard than CST. Evaluators should also assess the defendant's willingness to accept standby counsel (SBC) and the defendant's motivation for attempting a pro se defense.
    No preview · Article · Dec 2011 · The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
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    ABSTRACT: Anders Breivik's murder of 77 people in Norway in 2011 led to an unusual clash of interests. With conflicting psychiatric reports regarding his sanity, prosecutors argued that Breivik should be found not guilty by reason of insanity, whereas the defense strongly maintained that he was sane and responsible for his actions. Imposing an insanity defense on an unwilling defendant pits societal interests in fair adjudications against the right of defendants to control their defense. For crimes with political motivations, an imposed insanity verdict discredits the perpetrator and may distract the public from the threats posed by extreme political views.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2013 · Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.)
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