SCOTUS Blog reports:
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. We will provide a link to the decision as soon as it is available.
Lyle Denniston of SCOTUS Blog has commentary.
The Supreme Court ruled by a 7-2 vote on Thursday that a state may require a criminal defendant who suffers from a mental illness to have a lawyer, rather than allowing the individual to act as his own defense counsel, even when the individual is competent enough to be tried. The decision came in Indiana v. Edwards (07-208).
This was one of five decisions on the merits released this morning; all of the other four settled issues involving workers’ rights. The Court will next issue decisions on Monday, and may have at least one other decision day next week.
And here is what the ABA Criminal Justice Section has to say:
The Supreme Court decided that criminal defendants with a history of mental illness do not always have the right to represent themselves, even if they have been judged competent to stand trial.
"We consequently conclude that the Constitution permits judges to take realistic account of the particular defendant's mental capacities by asking whether a defendant who seeks to conduct his own defense at trial is mentally competent to do so," said Justice Stephen Breyer, who delivered the opinion of the court.
The 7-2 decision allows states to give trial judges discretion to prevent an individual from acting as his own lawyer if they are concerned that the trial could turn into a mockery of the justice system.
"The Constitution permits States to insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial," Breyer wrote, "... but who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves."