ABA to Supreme Court: Mental Incompetency May Require Stay of Capital Post-Conviction Proceedings

CHICAGO, Oct. 3, 2012 – In cases scheduled for oral arguments Oct. 9, the _ is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hold that the federal statutory right to a lawyer in capital habeas proceedings may require a judge to postpone the proceedings if the prisoner is not mentally competent to communicate meaningfully with his or her lawyer.

In an amicus brief filed in the Arizona case of Ryan v. Gonzales and the Ohio case of Tibbals v. Carter, the ABA cites its Model Rules of Professional Conduct and its other sources on legal ethics, criminal justice, mental health and the death penalty. The ABA is asking the justices to affirm Sixth and Ninth Circuit rulings on the cases.

“Throughout the ABA’s century-long commitment to the development of model codes, standards, and guidelines, the ABA’s focus has been ensuring that all clients, including capital habeas petitioners, receive quality legal representation,” the brief states. “Having concluded that meaningful communication between a client and his lawyer is essential to an effective attorney-client relationship, the ABA respectfully urges this Court to hold that the statutory right to an attorney under 18 U.S.C. § 3599 must include knowing, rational communication and decision-making by the prisoner and an appropriate stay when the prisoner is not competent to participate.”

The brief calls on the court to require judges to use a flexible standard, based on the petitioner’s particular incompetency and the case’s circumstances, in determining whether a stay in proceedings is appropriate.

The brief is available online here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the _ is the world’s largest voluntary professional membership organization. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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