The Supreme Court of the United States will hear its second case this term from Indiana on March 26, considering whether a defendant found competent to stand trial should also be allowed to represent himself.
Justices granted certiorari in December for Indiana v. Edwards, No. 07-208, which follows an Indiana Supreme Court ruling in May 2007. The case stems from a July 1999 downtown Indianapolis incident in which Ahmad Edwards was caught on surveillance tape stealing shoes. He ultimately shot at police multiple times while running away.
Edwards was charged with attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon that summer, but his jury trial was delayed during the next five years as he was found to be competent and incompetent to stand trial at different times. He was ultimately ruled competent and a jury trial began in June 2005, but the jury couldn’t reach a decision and a mistrial was declared.
Edwards wanted to proceed pro se, but the trial court determined he might have been competent for trial but was incapable of representing himself. He was sentenced in January 2006 to a concurrent 30-year sentence. Edwards appealed on several issues, including that he was denied his right to represent himself. The state’s two highest appellate courts reversed that and ordered a new trial.
In May 2007, Indiana’s justices relied on precedent from the SCOTUS that it deemed binding but also ripe with a possible review by the nation’s highest court. Opinions cited include landmark cases Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975), which held courts could not force a lawyer upon a defendant wanting his or her own self-representation; and Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993), that held the standard of competence to waive the right to counsel is the same standard of competence to stand trial.
Indiana Supreme Court Justice Theodore Boehm wrote, “We have sympathy for the view that a trial court should be afforded some discretion to make that call. The record in this case presents a substantial basis to agree with the trial court and thus presents an opportunity to revisit the holdings of Faretta and Godinez, if the Supreme Court of the United States decides that is to be done. However, as it stands today, we are bound by these authorities as Supreme Court precedent.”
The state filed a request in August for the SCOTUS to hear the case, and briefing is due Feb. 4 from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office and by the first week of March for Mike Fisher in the Marion County Public Defender’s Office.