March 27, 2008

"There are all kinds of nuts who can get 90 percent on the bar exam," said Justice Anthony Kennedy.

At oral argument yesterday. The case, Indiana v. Edwards, asks whether a criminal defendant who is competent to stand trial has a right to represent himself if that's what he wants to do. Is there some level of sanity at which you can go to trial but be forced to yield to representation by a lawyer? Kennedy's wisecrack came in response to a point made by Edwards's lawyer: Edwards did respond comprehensibly to the judge's legal questions.
Only Justice Antonin Scalia appeared strongly on Edwards' side...

"He can plead guilty if he wishes and that's OK," Scalia said. "Only he can't put on an incompetent defense?...The state still has to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said the right to self-representation is not absolute. "It is within the state's authority to override self-representation when the defendant can't communicate coherently," Fisher said.

Scalia shot back, "I sometimes think lawyers can't communicate coherently."


vet66 said...

The judge in the trial should allow the fool to represent himself as long as he doesn't turn it into a farce or opportunity for a rant on life in general. The judge still controls the proceedings and the DA still has to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Most lawyers are not Clarence Darrow types. They are short on substance and long on lip (Objection your honor!)

AlphaLiberal said...

This is really an insulting comment and cause for this Justice to recuse himself for prejudice against the mentally ill.

Haven't we learned so much about mental illness as organic disorders of the brain that we reject this sort of outright prejudice?

Who does he include as "nuts?" People with bipolar disorder? Depression?

What an offensive and ignorant statement.

Trooper York said...

When I was
A boy of ten
I had a very best friend
Ed was kind
WIth good intent
but just a little different

O, special ed
Momma dropped him on his head
Now he's not so bright, instead
he's a little bit special
just a little bit special

we played tag
he'd get hurt
i played 'soldier'
he'd eat dirt
i like math
and spelling bee
ed liked to talk to a tree

O, special ed
momma dropped him on his head
now she keeps in the shed
coz he's a little bit special
just a little bit special

i ran track
hang out in malls
ed ran head first into walls
i had girls
lots of clothes
ed had names for all his toes

O, special ed
momma dropped him on his head
Now he thinks a peice of bread
coz he's a little bit special
just a little bit special

One day talking to special ed
he grabbed a brick
and he swung at my head
and as he laughed at me thats when i knew
that special ed just made me special too

now i laugh as i count bugs
i give strangers great big hugs
next to me ed is fine
yeah, he's a fuckin einstein

O, special ed and me
now we're not bright in the head you see
now we're not so bright instead
we're a little bit special
just a little bit special
that fucker ed made me special
just a little
just a little bit...special
(Special Ed, Stephen Lynch)

Hoosier Daddy said...

I sometimes think lawyers can't communicate coherently."

No kidding. Try reading a statute sometime. Any statute. Lawyers are the only people besides kintergardeners who can write a sentence on an entire page which consists of one period and a shitload of semi-colons.

Hoosier Daddy said...

Who does he include as "nuts?" People with bipolar disorder? Depression?

No those people suffer mental illness. Liberals are nuts.

Anonymous said...

Remember, half of all lawyers and doctors graduated in the bottom 50% of their class. There is a lawyer who attends the same church we do. Frankly, he's incompetent. If anyone tells me he's his lawyer, I say nothing. If anyone asks me for a recommendation, I refer them elsewhere. Kennedy's right on this one. Ability to pass the bar is no indication that the person is sane. Ron Paul is a medical doctor, for crying out loud.

Roman said...

Competence and/or intellegince is no assurance of being correct. Who is to say what is normal? Just because someone has capital letters after their name does not make them correct!

TMink said...

AlphaLiberal, I respect your comment and concern for the mentally ill. You are absolutely right that mental illness stems from brain problems and that people with illness should not be vilified. It is rude and uncalled for.

At the same time, "nuts" and "crazy" are used in the field all the time. I do not think that they are meant to be pejorative in this context, but descriptive.

There are people with bipolar that get really ill but remain lucid enough to understand and accept that they are hallucinating and that blood is not really flowing down the walls. They will call me up and say something like "Wow I am really hallucinating badly, I think I better go home." They have good insight and are able to distinguish reality from their illness despite being floridly psychotic. They are quite ill, but not at all nuts!

Then there are people with say a panic disorder who are fine in the office but get a little elevated heart rate when they cut the grass and call the ambulance. You just spent three sessions with them going over the cognitive errors they are making, they got it in the office, but the first time they notice some strange bodily sensation their thought process goes to hell. They are nuts even though they are not psychotic.

So I think the term is used in the field to denote whether or not the person has good insight. Also, intelligence and psychosis are very different issues, which may have also been what the Justice was referring to.

My field is full of nuts who did well on the GRE and passed school and their licensing exam. I would not send my dog to them.

But, your point is valid and really very civilized, and I appreciate it. I know it will help me to be more careful with my language, and I thank you for that.


Nels said...

If the proceedings were recorded and televised (and YouTubed), Kennedy would be issuing an apology right now.

George M. Spencer said...

One of the things I remember most from law school was how so very many students--after the first semester or so--never seemed to open the texts and, as best I could tell, depended on Cliff-type notes.

The drop-off in studying seemed to coincide with professors' lessening use of the Socratic method in the second and third years.

Less pressure, less studying.

All you non-lawyers out there, beware.

And when you read about celebrities like poor JFK Jr. (or even Hillary Clinton) who fail the Bar first time around, beware beware.

Trooper York said...

Gentle Ben was worried about bringing his family to the annual bear convention in Jellystone when he heard that there would be bi-polar bears there. He was scared of the mentally ill and was worried that they might freak out and hurt someone. You really don’t want to be around a bear when he goes on a rampage. So he decided to go see Yogi who was the Mayor of Jellystone to see what precautions they had set up of the safety of the visitors. When he got to Yogi’s grotto, what does he see but Yogi and Cindy Bear having a three way with the Coca Cola polar bear. “Oh” he said, “I get it now, bi-polar bears.” Yogi looked up from the menage-a-bear and said “Hey let me introduce you to my driver, he wants me to run for governor in New Jersey.” Gentle Ben slowly backed away.
(Ricou Browning & John Florea, Gentle Ben, The E True Hollywood Story)

Unknown said...

Wow - Scalia standing up for individual freedom over a government power.

That's a new one.

Anonymous said...

"Panetti was convicted and sentenced to death after personally arguing that only an insane person could prove the insanity defense."

The lawyers, on the other hand, looked at each other quizzingly and said that only lawyers could prove the worth of their camerades.

One lawyer smirked. A member of the congregation winked. Later those two probably had relations, not sexual of nature, just looking up family trees,mind you.

Anonymous said...

I went to the lawyer and

she said: before you sign this I want you to make sure you understand every word.

i said: well here is the list of vocabulary I haven''t covered in years.

what she said: this word means this and this word means that.

i said: and i don't understand this sentence construction. Why do you use so many dependent clauses?

what she said: that is to make everything perfectly clear and to avoid the confusion that language represents. I will explain it to you in simpler terms.

i said: oh, I get it now.

Four hours later, I wondered how much she was going to charge me for that university law degree crammed into that tight session. It was cheap compared to the Harvard law degree.

BTW, stupid question from a nonlegaliseress: If our constitution is based loosely on those Iroquois principles of justice, did the Iroquois have lawyers in their system back then, or was that something implied in the US constitution to make sure that it would survive hundreds of years longer than that Iroquois stuff?

Simon said...

downtownlad said...
"Wow - Scalia standing up for individual freedom over a government power. That's a new one."

Not really. You're just pissy because of his Lawrence dissent (although, ironically enough, that too could be characterized as a case that saw him on the side of freedom over governmental power, albeit in a rather different sense - the freedom of the people acting through the instruments of their local and state governments to proscribe disfavored conduct over the power of the federal government to impose uniformity regardless of local custom and belief, or more particularly, the power off the federal judiciary to impose new laws on the people that no one ever consented to in the democratic process by inventing new content in the Constitution. To bastardize Hayek and Orwell, the most effective way to convince people to accept the new law is to convince them that the new law is no such thing: it was always the law).

Alpha's suggestion that this merits recusal is the very latest in a long line of desperate demands for recusal that have nothing to do with any rational standard for recusal and everything to do with how they can work towards a majority without changing any votes. It's the Obama approach - throw out enough votes for the side you don't favor until you have a majority over what's left.

Swifty Quick said...

Wow - Scalia standing up for individual freedom over a government power.

I wouldn't be real fast about leaping to that conclusion. The trial judge denied the request by the mentally ill defendant to represent himself because the judge was concerned that this pro se defendant would not get a fair trial. I can see the how a mentally ill defendant could be deemed to be competent enough to stand trial, or to agree to a guilty plea, but whose mental illness, put on full display at trial in front of a jury, day in and day out, throughout every step of the proceedings, would be in and of itself so prejudicial that it would deprive him of a fair trial. Scalia is way smart enough to get that too, but Scalia is saying that if the mentally ill defendant who has been declared competent wants to hang himself, get out of his way. I'm not sure how squarely that goes down as a victory of individual freedom over governmental power.

ricpic said...

Is the issue here sanity or is it lack of mental acuity? I don't know what competent to stand trial means. Does it mean the defendant is capable of understanding the charge brought against him? If so, a defendant might be able to understand what he's charged with but not have the mental capacity to mount a coherent comprehensible defense. Mightn't that circumstance (to be determined on a case by case basis by the presiding judge) override the absolute right of a defendant to mount his own defense?

blake said...

If you want precision, use a mathematician or a computer programmer.

Though I'm pretty sure the Windows code base is as inscrutable as any legal contract.

Peter V. Bella said...

AlphaLiberal said...
This is really an insulting comment and cause for this Justice to recuse himself for prejudice against the mentally ill.

Shot that old freedom of speech right in the ass. Freedom of speech is only free as long as it does not insult nuts.

Anonymous said...

Justice Anthony Kennedy was not impressed by Stancil's observation. "There are all kinds of nuts who can get 90 percent on the bar exam," Kennedy said.

Since no one has yet said it, I'll say it: Yes, and some of those nuts even issue insulting remarks from the bench of our nation's highest court.