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May 25, 2011

"Loughner Found Incompetent to Stand Trial"

The title of this post is the headline of this Wall Street Journal report on the results of a high-profile court hearing today in Arizona.  Here are the details:

A federal judge in Tucson, Ariz., Wednesday declared alleged killer Jared Loughner mentally incompetent.  The decision could delay any trial by months and raises the possibility that the 22-year-old accused shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others might never appear before a jury.

Mr. Loughner, who has been in custody since the Jan. 8 shootings — in which six people died — will now be evaluated with the aim of coming up with a treatment plan to restore him to competence so his trial can proceed, possibly through the use of psychiatric drugs, say legal experts.

The ruling sets the stage for a possible legal battle over whether Mr. Loughner, if he refuses treatment, should be forced to take drugs that might help him regain competency and face trial....

Thousands of defendants each year in the U.S.'s courts are deemed incompetent to stand trial, experts say.  "In the overwhelming majority of cases people are treated and restored" for trial within months, said Richard Bonnie, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Virginia.

May 25, 2011 at 04:16 PM | Permalink


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This is a huge issue in Texas. There's a large backlog for competency restoration beds at the state mental hospitals (half of all MH hospital beds are so-called "forensic" beds), and once people return from the mental hospital they frequently de-compensate in jail before trial. People can't even plead guilty if they're deemed incompetent, so sometimes misdemeanor defendants spend longer awaiting competency restoration than their maximum sentence if convicted. Meanwhile, those petty offenders take up space needed for the dangerous ones like Loughner. A bill just passed and was sent to the Governor to make the max time awaiting misdemeanor competency restoration no greater than the max punishment for the offense. There's a serious need for expanded community based mental health services instead of using jails and prisons as our primary mental institutions. The largest mental hospital in the state is a wing in the Harris County Jail in Houston.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | May 25, 2011 7:39:52 PM

It is my understanding that the U.S. Attorney's office acquiesced to the court's ruling. As a criminal defense attorney, I would like to applaud the U.S. Attorney's office--it must be difficult to concede this point in the face of harsh and unfair public opinion. I think the professionals at the Bureau of Prisons also deserve kudos for making a determination that I am sure they realized would be publicly condemned.

Posted by: C.A.J. | May 26, 2011 12:35:33 AM

C.A.J., the NRA and other tough on crime organizations conceded long ago he was a loon, so guns were not to blame. I'm not saying guns were to blame but did think it interesting how the usual blame game shifted. So perhaps there wasn't the usual political risk in finding incompetence.

Posted by: George | May 26, 2011 12:47:13 AM

The blame lies squarely on the Supreme Court that took over clinical psychiatry to generate lawyer jobs. Involuntary treatment used to be granted based on need. Now it has to be based on dangerousness. Now, after killing people, he qualifies. Also a hearing with 3 lawyers must be conducted with a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and a magistrate in the middle. None of these lawyers knows anything about mental illness. If you liked the killing of a beautiful little girl by this accused, thank the Supreme Court.

Not only does the lawyer know nothing about psychiatry nor any other technical field, but his logic is itself insane. Loughner is totally out of it. His condition has been allowed to deteriorate to a point where his speech is rambling gibberish. That state makes him extremely dangerous to himself and to everyone around him. That state justifies and requires that he be immediately executed for public safety. Instead of killing this dangerous person, the lawyer privileges this dangerous person. The lawyer is nuts and dangerous to the public safety.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 26, 2011 3:16:43 AM

Paranoid schizophrenics kill 2000 people a year, or every eighth murder victim. Thank the Supreme Court for these highly preventable killings.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | May 26, 2011 3:20:32 AM

"Instead of killing this dangerous person, the lawyer privileges this dangerous person. The lawyer is nuts and dangerous to the public safety."

1. Read the Constitution lately?

2. You know who sounds "nuts"? Look in the mirror. Your logic doesn't cohere and you seem to have lost touch with reality.

Posted by: Cally | Jun 27, 2011 5:48:38 AM

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