Legal and Clinical Issues Regarding the Pro Se Defendant: Guidance for Practitioners and Policy Makers

Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Forthcoming

University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper

57 Pages Posted: 6 Jun 2019

See all articles by Christina Patton

Christina Patton

Colorado Mental Health Institute Pueblo

E. Lea Johnston

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Colleen Lillard

West Virginia University - West Virginia University Health Sciences Center

Michael Vitacco

Augusta University

Date Written: May 23, 2019

Abstract

Defendants who attempt to represent themselves, or proceed pro se, make up less than 1% of felony cases. However, when the issue of competency to proceed pro se arises, it can present interesting questions and challenges not only for the defendant, but also for others involved with the trial process. In Indiana v. Edwards (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court permitted states to impose a higher standard of competency for defendants who wish to proceed to trial without an attorney than for defendants who stand trial with representation. States have responded by adopting a patchwork of different, and often vague, competency standards. The current paper describes states’ differing responses to Edwards, courts’ efforts to ensure the constitutionality of those standards, and extant research on the legal standards and guidelines that should apply to forensic evaluators. Drawing upon this body of law and commentary, this article distills principles to guide evaluations of defendants’ pro se competency. To facilitate discussion, this article utilizes three case studies involving defendants with severe mental illness, antisocial personality disorder, and communication impediments unrelated to mental illness. The analysis of these case studies illustrates the application of guiding principles and demonstrates how to distinguish impairments relevant to pro se competence from those that may be legally irrelevant yet still present significant fairness or efficiency concerns.

Keywords: competence to proceed, forensic assessment, pro se competence, forensic evaluation

Suggested Citation

Patton, Christina and Johnston, E. Lea and Lillard, Colleen and Vitacco, Michael, Legal and Clinical Issues Regarding the Pro Se Defendant: Guidance for Practitioners and Policy Makers (May 23, 2019). Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Forthcoming, University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3397323

Christina Patton

Colorado Mental Health Institute Pueblo ( email )

1600 W. 24th St
Pueblo, CO 81003
United States

E. Lea Johnston (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States

Colleen Lillard

West Virginia University - West Virginia University Health Sciences Center ( email )

Morgantown, WV 26506
United States

Michael Vitacco

Augusta University ( email )

1120 15th Street
Augusta, GA 30912
United States

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