Test run for SCOTUS arguments

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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An Indiana case goes up to the U.S. Supreme Court in the final week of March to determine whether a man who's been found competent to stand trial is competent to represent himself in those court proceedings.

Before that happens, though, the defense team representing the Indianapolis man is at the University of Illinois College of Law in Chicago getting a test run today in a mock argument of Indiana v. Ahmad Edwards, No. 07-208, which will go before the nation's highest court on March 26.

The case poses a question of whether states may adopt a higher standard for measuring competency to represent oneself at trial than for measuring competency to stand trial. It comes from a criminal case out of Indianapolis in 1999, which resulted in years of litigation before the Indiana Supreme Court decided in May 2007 that Edwards had a right to represent himself at a new trial. The state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which accepted the case late last year and is now being fully briefed.

"This is a pretty significant case that's not only interesting, but it really matters," said law professor Andrew Leipold, the director of the college's criminal law and procedure program. "This is a test drive in front of our faculty."

Washington, D.C.-based attorney Mark Stancil, who's arguing before the nine justices; and Michael R. Fisher with the Marion County Public Defender Agency's appellate division, who handled the case at the state level, will both participate in the moot court setting.

Stancil's brother, who teaches at the school, is the Illinois college's connection to the Indiana case. Faculty participating in the mock argument scheduled to start at 3 p.m. Central (4 p.m. Eastern) today include Leipold, professor and criminal defense attorney Steven Beckett, professor and constitutional law expert Larry Solum, and professor and legal historian Bruce Smith.

That panel will ask questions and try to replicate what they believe justices will ask later this month, Leipold said.

"We will press hard on possible weaknesses and figure out ways to help (Stancil) make his points," Leipold said.

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