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20 Jun, 2008 07:26

U.S. court curbs self-representation for mentally ill

U.S. court curbs self-representation for mentally ill

A mentally-ill defendant can be denied the right to represent himself in a court despite being competent to stand trial, according to a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case decided by justices involved Ahmad Edwards, a schizophrenic man who started a shoot-out in a department store in Indiana. He was held in custody for six years before being found competent to stand trial.

A judge ruled Edwards be represented by an attorney. He was found guilty of attempted murder, among other charges.

The state Supreme Court insisted the man should get a new trial, because the Sixth Amendment guarantees right of defendants to represent themselves in court.

On Thursday Supreme Court justices ruled 7 to 2 that a defendant can be denied the right to be his own attorney in court, if his mental health makes him incompetent.

“Given that defendant's uncertain mental state, the spectacle that could well result from his self-representation at trial is at least as likely to prove humiliating as ennobling,” wrote Justice Stephen G. Breyer.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted against the decision, said: “The dignity at issue is the supreme human dignity of being master of one's fate rather than a ward of the state – the dignity of individual choice.”

The majority agreed to the point but argued that such a right can be limited by competency requirements.

The court said a state has to make sure trials are proper and appear fair to the public, rather than descending into a “farce.”