On Wednesday March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Indiana v. Edwards. Ahmad Edwards, the defendant in the case, stole a pair of shoes from an Indiana department store and then shot at the store security guard who chased after him, wounding the guard and a passer-by. The State of Indiana charged Edwards with theft, criminal recklessness, battery, and attempted murder. After six years of treatment for schizophrenia, an Indiana trial court declared Edwards competent to stand trial, but, when Edwards made a request to represent himself, the judge said that as a diagnosed schizophrenic he was not competent to represent himself. Edwards went to trial with counsel, a jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Edwards appealed, arguing that the court deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself at trial. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Edwards, and the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court’s decision.
The Supreme Court will now consider whether states may adopt a higher standard for measuring competency to represent oneself at trial than for measuring competency to stand trial. Allowing a trial court to bring a defendant to trial while simultaneously limiting his Sixth Amendment right of self-representation touches on sensitive issues of defendant autonomy and judicial fairness. Yet denying trial courts such discretion may prevent them from making crucial assessments and trial management decisions concerning mentally ill defendants.
The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/07-208.html.