SCOTUS hears pro se competency case

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments this morning in its third Indiana case in the past six months, pondering whether defendants found competent to stand trial maintain a right to represent themselves.

In its first case of the morning at 10 a.m., justices took on Indiana v. Ahmad Edwards, No. 07-208, delving into what the Sixth Amendment dictates regarding competency standards for pro se litigants. Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher argued for the state and shared his time with Michael R. Dreeben of the U.S. Solicitor General's office, while Washington, D.C., attorney Mark Stancil argued for Edwards.

The case stems from a 1999 incident in Indianapolis in which Edwards stole shoes from a downtown store, fled, and then shot at police before being arrested. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia. After years of back and forth decisions about his competency to stand trial, Edwards was ultimately cleared for trial. The trial judge determined he wasn't fit to represent himself, but Edwards won on appeal. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed that order in May 2007 with a ruling that invited SCOTUS review of precedent.

This morning's arguments drew a small group of Hoosier attorneys from both sides, including Michael R. Fisher from the Marion County Public Defender Agency's appellate division, who saw the case through the Indiana appellate courts before it went to the SCOTUS. This was the first case of Fisher's to reach this level. Though he didn't argue the case, he had a front-row seat at lead counsel table.

Both Stancil and Thomas Fisher said the justices were active as always in their questioning and presented insightful considerations about the practical ramifications of the case. Neither encountered any surprises, they said. Justice Antonin Scalia was particularly engaged in the arguments, as he's viewed as one of the strongest proponents of the Sixth Amendment, the attorneys said.

"I thought it was a good day," Thomas Fisher said. "Several justices acknowledged the difficulty trial judges have in these situations, where they have to balance someone's right to represent with what happens when that person can't be relied upon to relay a coherent defense."

Indiana Lawyer couldn't immediately reach Michael Fisher following the arguments.

Audio broadcasts of arguments are rare and the court doesn't offer video of the arguments, although a transcript can be viewed here.

With these arguments complete, the high court now has three argued cases from Indiana on its plate, all of them within the past six months. Those are a money laundering case from East Chicago, U.S. v. Efrain Santos, No. 06-1005, that the court heard in October and the high-profile, consolidated voter identification law case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, No. 07-21, and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, No. 07-25, argued in January. Justices are expected to rule on at least the first two argued cases by the time the court recesses in late June.

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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues