Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2012


The purposes of the competency doctrine are to guarantee reliability in criminal prosecutions, to ensure that only those defendants who can appreciate punishment are subject to it, and to maintain moral dignity, both actual and apparent, in criminal proceedings. No matter his crime, the “madman” should not be forced to stand trial. Historically, courts viewed questions of competency as a binary choice, finding the defendant either competent or incompetent to stand trial. However, in Edwards v. Indiana, the Supreme Court conceded that it views competency on a spectrum and offered a new category of competency — borderline-competent. The Court held that borderline-competent defendants may proceed to trial so long as they are represented by counsel. This Article examines borderline- competent defendants in the context of capital prosecution and argues that those defendants, like mentally retarded defendants, pose a special risk that the death penalty will be imposed in spite of factors that may call for a less severe penalty. In the death penalty context where the proceedings are complex, the risks are enormous, and the demand for moral dignity is greatest, using competent counsel as a proxy for the capital defendant’s competency violates the defendant’s due process rights. This Article maintains that those defendants who are incompetent to proceed to trial without counsel should be categorically exempted from death.



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