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June 19, 2008

Still waiting for criminal justice biggies from SCOTUS

As it does so well, SCOTUSblog has all the news on the Supreme Court's work this morning.  Five opinions were released, but the big three I am most interested in (Exxon, Heller, Kennedy) were not among the bunch.  Next Monday or later next week is likely when we can and should expect all of these rulings.

The only criminal justice ruling today concerned the right of self-representation in Indiana v. Edwards.  Here is the SCOTUSblog summary account of the ruling:

The Court has released the opinion in Indiana v. Edwards (07-208), on whether criminal defendants found competent to stand trial must be permitted to represent themselves. The ruling below, which found for the defendant, is vacated and remanded. Justice Breyer wrote the opinion. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.

The full opinion can be accessed at this link.

June 19, 2008 at 10:27 AM | Permalink


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Edwards looks like quite an interesting opinion from my initial look. I think that Scalia's dissent raises some important concerns with the majority opinion - especially with the concern over the excessive paternalism by the state over persons with mental illness (and the attendant risk that persons with mental illness may well be forced into NGRI pleas or verdicts (which often can be much worse for a defendant especially one charged with more minor crimes than the one that Mr. Edwards was charged with due to the ability for a state to hold a person found NGRI indefinitely).

Posted by: Zack | Jun 19, 2008 11:24:30 AM

So how will the courts deal with a situation where the lawyer and the impaired client have fundamental differences on the representation . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jun 19, 2008 11:50:53 AM

The opinion/result has a host of practical and theoretical problems. Hopefully states will respond by enacting rules stating that a defendant who is competent to stand trial is also competent to discharge counsel. All this case says (I believe) is that a contrary rule isn't unconstitutional, it doesn't say that states must have a contrary rule.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 19, 2008 1:13:50 PM

Having taken a closer look at this opinion, it is definitely very problematic. One of the biggest practical problems is completely ignored by the majority - that is how can a person be "competent" to stand trial, yet be denied the right to control their defense and be forced to be represented by an attorney they disagree with. Obviously, the Court avoided revisting the issue of competency to stand trial, but one must expect that such issues will come back before the Court eventually (maybe in a habeas claim for ineffective assistance of counsel). But it seems odd that the majority never once mentions the disagreements between the client and the attorney as the main reason why Mr. Edwards wanted to represent himself. It would seem to me almost impossible for a defendant to get a fair trial in such a situation where the attorney and client are in disagreement about how to structure the defense (especially given that a criminal defendant has the absolute right to testify in their own defense).

Anon, one can definitely hope that for the future, especially given that effectively forcing the mentally ill to have counsel could raise some very thorny ethical issues for appointed defense counsel.

Posted by: Zack | Jun 19, 2008 2:33:49 PM

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