Monday, May 10, 2010

Competent to Stand Trial, but Not to Proceed Pro Se

In Chadwick v. State, ___ S.W.3d___ (Tex. Crim. App. May 5th, 2010), the CCA applied to 2008 holding of the U.S. Supreme Court in Indiana v. Edwards to a Texas man who had recently exhibited a pattern of mental illness - so much so that he was ultimately comitted and rehabilitated before he was able to stand trial.  At his later trial the defendant requested to represent himself as his own attorney.  The trial judge denied the request and appointed a lawyer to represent him.  The defendant was convicted.  The question for the CCA on appeal was whether the trial court abused its discretion by refusing to allow the defendant to proceed pro se after his competency to stand trial was restored?

Although the Supreme Court previously stated, in Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975)
'the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Consitution prohibit the State from 'haling a person into its criminal courts and there forcing a lawyer upon him, even when he insists that he wants to conduct hos own defense,'
it later recognized in Indiana v. Edwards, 128 S.Ct. 2379 (2008) "a mental-illness-related limitation on the scope of the self-representation right."  In Edwards, the Supremes concluded that
the Constitution permits judges to take realistic account of the particular defendant’s mental capacities by asking whether a defendant who seeks to conduct his own defense at trial is mentally competent to do so. That is to say the Constitution permits States to insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial under Dusky but who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.
In reaching this conclusion the Supreme Court determined that trial judges are usually in the best position to make "fine-tuned mental capacity decisions."  Accordingly, the CCA applied an abuse of discretion standard, and viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's determination, upheld the decision denying the defendant's right to proceed pro se.