In Print: Volume 89: Number 3
How ‘Reasonable’ Has Become Unreasonable: A Proposal for Rewriting the Lasting Legacy of Jackson v. Indiana
By Nicholas Rosinia
89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 673 (2012)
Inquiry into a defendant’s competence to stand trial has been termed “the most significant mental health inquiry pursued in the system of criminal law.” As a result, competency to stand trial is one of the most widely debated concepts in criminal jurisprudence. Proposals for upheaval and revision of the doctrine of competence to stand trial pervade legal literature. Among the most frequent contention is that competency is misunderstood within the legal process, leading many scholars to advocate for a greater understanding of the basic doctrine.4 One commentator even believes the doctrine may be doing more harm than good, and has thus suggested a defendant should be granted limited rights to waive competency inquiries.
This debate has spilled into pretrial commitment of incompetent
defendants. Once a defendant is deemed incompetent to stand trial, courts typically remand the defendant to the care of state hospitals and/or mental health professionals. This process has spawned tales of defendants faced with extended pretrial commitment for alleged crimes, prompting revisionary proposals to protect defendants from court-sanctioned injustice. The debate is particularly contentious, however, because within this pretrial commitment process stands a trifecta of competing interests. While the state and public as a whole deserve protection and justice, a defendant equally deserves due process and a fair trial. Thus, a collision course is charted, with a defendant’s constitutional rights squaring off against the deep-rooted motivations of criminal jurisprudence—offering victims closure and justice while ensuring respect for the law.