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October 8, 2012

Right to Lawyer Involves Mental Competency, ABA Urges Supreme Court

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, argued on Oct. 9, 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.