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High court rules on self-representation issue

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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed a trial court's ruling that a defendant who was competent enough to stand trial wasn't competent to represent himself at trial, an issue on remand from the Supreme Court of the United States.

In Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana, No. 49S02-0705-CR-202, the justices unanimously agreed the denial of Ahmad Edward's request to act pro se at his criminal trial didn't violate his federal or state constitutional right to self-representation. Edwards wanted to represent himself at his second trial, when he was convicted of attempted murder and battery. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and the Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court.

The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the state's Supreme Court's judgment, holding that the federal Constitution permits judges to take a realistic account of the particular defendant's mental capacities and allows states to insist upon counsel for those competent enough to stand trial under Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960), but not represent themselves.

On remand, the Indiana Supreme Court had to determine whether the trial court found Edwards suffered from a severe mental illness such that he wasn't competent to conduct trial proceedings on his own and if the record supports this. Edwards had three mental competency determinations over the course of three years.

Justice Theodore Boehm wrote the Indiana Supreme Court had two alternatives: resolve the issue before them or remand for a hearing in which the issue is Edwards' mental illness as of December 2005 when his second trial was held. The justices concluded the trial court's findings and body of evidence available at the trial court's consideration took away any need for a retrospective competency hearing.

Although there is conflicting evidence as to whether or not Edwards was competent or if his mental illness was improving, the Supreme Court had to consider his competency when he wanted to represent himself in 2005 at trial. The psychiatric evaluations of Edwards sometimes disagree, but they overwhelmingly confirm that he suffered from severe and pervasive mental illness, Justice Boehm wrote. As such the evidence and circumstances support the trial court finding he wasn't competent enough to stand trial.

The Supreme Court also examined Edwards' claim under Article I, Section 13 of the Indiana Constitution and concluded the right to self-representation of mentally impaired persons under Section 13 is no broader than that guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment, wrote the justice.

Although the Indiana constitution states the accused has the right "to be heard by himself" and doesn't express a preference for whether the defendant or counsel should take the steps to be heard, the justices ruled the accused's right "to be heard by himself" isn't an unlimited right to conduct all trial proceedings on his or her own.

The high court also declined - as the state requested - to adopt a Section 13 standard allowing courts to "deny a criminal defendant the right to represent himself at trial where the defendant cannot communicate coherently with the court or jury."

"The federal constitution establishes rights that the states may choose to expand, but the Supremacy Clause precludes any state doctrine that restricts a federal constitutional right," wrote Justice Boehm. "Edwards describes a limitation on the general federal constitutional right to self-representation, and the Supreme Court expressed uncertainty as to how the State's proposal would 'work in practice' and declined to adopt it as a federal standard."

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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