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T&L Blog Post #1

For the competency to stand trial, I would keep the Dusky v. United States standard that the defendant must be able to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of understanding as well has have a factual understanding of the proceedings against him. This is a fair standard because many non-mentally ill criminal defendants have that same level of understanding during their criminal trial. I would require a higher competency standard for the mentally ill criminal defendants to waive counsel and represent themselves. There are important rights at stake during a criminal trial and the Sixth Amendment ensures the right to counsel.

The Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington held that right implies an effective assistance of counsel. Under Strickland v. Washington, to prove ineffective assistance of counsel a defendant must show: (1) their trial lawyer’s performance fell below an “objective standard of reasonableness” and (2) “ a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” A mentally ill defendant would fail the first prong because they most likely have no legal education or training and do not know the intricate workings of a courtroom that even a new attorney has an understand of. The competency to stand trial standard simply just requires having knowledge and awareness of their surroundings and representing oneself in a criminal trial should require more than basic knowledge and awareness. As such, a mentally ill defendant’s performance would fall below an “objective standard of reasonableness.”

As for the second prong, not every mentally ill defendant’s own representation could be said to be the “but for” cause of his or her conviction. Colin Ferguson, for example, was going to be convicted either way because of the amount of evidence against him and the eyewitness accounts. However, Colin Ferguson questioning his victim’s on the stand could have inflamed the jury and resulted in a harsher punishment than if he were represented by counsel. Ferguson’s trial should not have been able to proceed without him being represented by counsel based off of his opening statement alone; the number of charges based on the year it was and his other nonsensical comments was proof he should not have been representing himself. Ferguson did understand the bare minimum of how to proceed, with help from advisory counsel, but I think the interesting question is would his sentence have turned out the same had counsel represented him (Ignoring the “Black Rage” argument; if he were represented by counsel with a legitimate NGRI defense)? In Ferguson’s case, the amount of evidence against him was going to lead to his conviction; however, but for his representation of himself, would his case have turned out differently?

-Mallorie Thomas