WASHINGTON (CN) – States can assign attorneys to defendants who are competent enough to stand trial, but are too mentally ill to conduct their own trial proceedings, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled.
The justices voted 7-2 that mental competency standards trump a defendant’s right to self-representation.
The decision stems from the case of an Indiana man who was convicted of attempted murder and other charges in 2005 for firing shots in a department store while trying to steal a pair of shoes.
Ahmad Edwards insisted on representing himself at trial, despite being diagnosed schizophrenic. By 2005, he was judged competent to stand trial, but was assigned an attorney. After two trials, Edwards was convicted on all charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Indiana courts reversed his conviction and ordered a new trial, concluding that the state had no right to assign him an attorney when he wanted to go without.
The high court said it backed the state’s position based on a number of factors, including the “spectacle” that could result from a mentally unstable defendant defending himself at trial.
Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.