U.S. Supreme Court hears Indiana v. Edwards: What level of mental capacity to proceed pro se?

Here’s a recap provided by SCOTUSblog on Indiana v. Edwards , a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether states can require a defendant to have a higher mental capacity when he or she chooses to proceed pro se, versus the mental capacity required to stand trial with an attorney by his or her side.

With Justice Antonin Scalia energetically and repeatedly making the case for a simple rule, the Supreme Court on Wednesday showed a reluctance to add a new layer of complexity to criminal trials when a person with a significant mental defect wants to act as his own defense lawyer. The core issue in Indiana v. Edwards (07-208) is whether states are constitutionally free to require that accused individuals have a higher level of mental capacity to represent themselves than is required for them simply to be put on trial with a lawyer at their side. As the lawyer for the state pressed for a two-level standard, most of the Court reacted with skepticism, first, about how to define a workable two-level test, and, second, about how that would complicate actual trials. Underlying much of the oral argument was a deep perplexity over how to conduct fair trials for persons with sub-standard mental capacity.

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