"Competency and death-row challenges," is Lyle Denniston's SCOTUSblog report. Here's an excerpt from the top of his thorough coverage of the cases and issues:
The Supreme Court a quarter century ago ruled that it would be unconstitutional to execute an insane individual, and it decided in 2002 to extend that ban to the mentally retarded. Earlier, in 1966, it had ruled that federal courts should not allow a death-row inmate to give up any legal challenges while he was mentally ill. But the Court has never decided whether an individual has any right, under the Constitution or any federal law, to actually be competent in order to take part in a federal habeas review of his case or to have the case put off indefinitely. On Monday, it agreed to rule on those issues, accepting new cases from Arizona and Ohio.
The Justices’ agreement to take on two new death-row cases brings the Court back to an exploration of the rights of individuals who have been sentenced to death in murder cases and then are found to be mentally incompetent. If they are actually insane, they cannot be executed, under the Court’s 1986 decision in Ford v. Wainwright. The mentally retarded were also shielded from execution by the 2002 decision in Atkins v. Virginia. Those rulings meant flat bans on the death penalty. But the Court has not sorted out what other legal rights the mentally ill on death row have when, having failed in challenges in state court, they turn to federal courts to press their legal claims.
Officials in 17 states joined in urging the Court to spell out what a federal court is to do in a habeas case when a death-row inmate is found to be incapable — because of a mental defect — of helping out his lawyers in pursuing a habeas challenge. State officials object to having such a case put on hold indefinitely, because it leaves the state uncertain about whether it can carry out death sentences. Such cases, they argue, should proceed to decisions on whether the inmate has any valid complaint about his state trial, and do so whether the inmate takes part or not.
The SCOTUSblog case file for Ryan v. Gonzales contains more case information.
"Supreme Court will considered delays in death row cases over claims of mental health problems," is the AP filing via the Washington Post.
In each case, a death row inmate won an indefinite delay from federal judges based on disputed claims of mental incompetence to understand the proceedings against him and aid in his own defense.
Sean Carter was sentenced to death for raping and killing his adoptive grandmother in 1997. Ernest Valencia Gonzales received a death sentence for a murder in Arizona in 1990.
Reuters posts, "Supreme court to hear death row mental competency cases," by James Vicini. It's via the Chicago Tribune.
The Supreme Court said on Monday it would decide whether a federal law on the appointment of attorneys requires that death row inmates have their legal proceedings put on hold if they are mentally incompetent to assist their lawyers.
The justices agreed to hear a pair of cases from Arizona and Ohio and decide the reach of a law that provides that a poor death row inmate pursuing a federal appeal after conviction be entitled to the appointment of attorneys.
The Obama administration took the position in one of the cases that federal courts have the inherent authority to put such proceedings on hold if the inmate was mentally incompetent.
Administration lawyers said the law at issue neither categorically requires nor rules out a stay of such proceedings. It said the law provided for the appointment of an attorney but does not guarantee a right of mental competence to assist the counsel in post-conviction appeals.
"Supreme Court to Decide on Competency Delays in Death-Row Habeas Cases," by Debra Cassens Weiss for ABA Journal.
The second case, Tibbals v. Carter, involves Ohio death-row inmate Sean Carter, who was sentenced to death for raping and killing his adoptive grandmother in 1997, AP says. According to an opinion (PDF) by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, experts agreed that Carter suffered from schizophrenia, personality disorder and hallucinations. The court based its decision partly on a different federal law allowing judges to order competency hearings for defendants before a trial, SCOTUSblog reports.
The Volokh Conspiracy noted “a forceful dissent” by Judge John Rogers in the 2011 ruling. “Today the court allows habeas petitioners to prevent states from enforcing their judgments, potentially forever, on the grounds of a nonexistent right to competency in habeas proceedings,” he wrote.
Courthouse News Service posts, "High Court to Consider Staying Death Row Cases," by Barbara Leonard.
"Supreme Court to hear case of Warren killer," is coverage from Ohio's Warren Tribune Chronicle. It's written by Christopher Bobby.
The cases will be considered in the Court's next term, which will begin in October.
Related posts are in the mental illness and Scott Panetti indexes. Panetti's case involves the question of competency to be executed. The Supreme Court established standards to assess whether severely mentally ill inmates are competent to be executed in a 1986 case, Ford v. Wainwright. more via Oyez.