There are two forms of competency; both noted in the competency category index. We've seen considerable coverage lately involving the question of competency to be executed; a standard laid out by the Supreme Court in Ford v. Wainwright in 1986. That's the issue in the Ohio case of Abdul Awkal, as well as a handful of Texas death row cases.
There is also the issue of competency to stand trial and the ability to assist in your defense. Today's Baltimore Sun reports, "Inmate found mentally unfit for trial in killing of Maryland prison officer," by Andrea F. Siegel.
A prisoner facing a death-penalty trial in the 2006 killing of a correctional officer inside the antiquated Maryland House of Correction was found mentally unfit to stand trial Thursday.
Lamarr Cornelius "Junebug" Harris, 41, who is already serving more than three life terms for Baltimore murder convictions, looked blankly ahead after Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner handed down his ruling.
Harris was one of two prisoners accused of fatally ambushing Cpl. David McGuinn on the catwalk of a prison tier tier in July 2006 — part of the violence that led state officials to close the prison. The other prisoner, serving one life term plus additional years, was convicted, but the jury rejected the death penalty and sentenced him to another life term.
Hackner found that Harris understood the nature of the proceedings against him, but did not meet the second requirement.
The judge said he was unconvinced that Harris "is able to have a reasonable degree of rational understanding such that he can assist his counsel in this case."
Defense lawyers began raising the possibility in 2007 that Harris was too mentally disturbed to stand trial. Prosecutors maintained that he was fit for trial.
The ruling leaves his treatment up to state mental health officials. Generally, criminal defendants found mentally incompetent are sent to the Clifton T. Perkins psychiatric hospital, which has a maximum security wing.
Harris must have an annual review in court. If he is not found competent within 10 years, the case against Harris would be dismissed unless a judge finds "extraordinary cause." However, he has the remainder of his prison terms to serve.
Coverage of Lee Edward Stephen's case - the other inmate charged in the Maryland prison murder - begins at the link. He was convicted, but jurors did not impose a death sentence.