Supreme Court Clarifies Trial Competency Standards

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In clarifying criminal trial competency standards, The US Supreme Court agreed with the main points of an APA amicus curiae brief in holding that having mental competence in one specific area of criminal proceedings does not suffice for all judicial circumstances. The court held that the criminal defendants who are declared competent to stand trial should not automatically be considered competent to serve as their own counsel during that trial. The decision means that it does not violate the U.S. Constitution for states to insist that a defendant must be represented by an attorney, even if the defendant objects, when a judge believes that a defendant is not competent to conduct his or her own defense. Representing oneself requires a higher level of mental competence, the Court indicated, than understanding and participating in a trial. The 7-2 decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, cites arguments made by APA and the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.

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