High Court Issue: When Can Defendants Represent Themselves?


An Indianapolis shoe shoplifting that escalated into a shooting nearly a decade ago is the basis for the Supreme Court to decide how much latitude states have to determine if a defendant is capable of representing himself at trial, Gannett News Service report. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday in the case of a judge who decided a defendant with a history of mental illness was competent to stand trial, but not to represent himself as he requested. The Indiana Supreme Court later ruled that Ahmad Edwards had the right to represent himself and reversed his conviction. The Indiana attorney general argues that allowing mentally impaired defendants to represent themselves undermines fair trials and erodes public confidence in the system.

Law Prof. Erica Hashimoto of the University of Georgia says felony defendants who choose to represent themselves represent significantly less than 1 percent of all defendants. About 20 percent of the federal felony defendants she examined showed signs of mental illness. “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.”

Link: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2008-03-22-selflawyer_N.htm

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