Friday, June 20, 2008

Supreme Court limits rights of mentally ill people to act as their own counsel

The Associated Press reports:

Mentally ill criminal defendants don't have the same constitutional rights as everyone else, the U.S. Supreme Court said June 19 in carving out an exception to the right to represent yourself.

The justices said that a mentally ill defendant can be judged competent to stand trial, yet incapable of acting as his own lawyer. The 7-2 decision said states can give a trial judge discretion to force someone to accept an attorney to represent him if the judge
is concerned that the trial could turn into a farce.

"The Constitution permits states to insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial . . . but who still suffer from severe mental illness to
the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the majority opinion.

The court has previously declared that self-representation is a constitutional right.