Competency to Stand Trial as a Defendants Right

A that is often consulted when it comes to the question of competency isDusky v. United States(1960). This has some definite and expert opinion on whether a defendant is competent. It says that a defendant should be able to rationally understand the proceedings against him (Swerdlow-Freed 24).

A defendant is protected of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Everyone is equal under the law and as such defendants have a right and should be protected under the law. This is the principle behind the competency issue. Defendants should have a significant part in defending themselves and should know what is going on inside the court. But mental health problems are a barrier to this right under the law. It is very specific inDusky v. United States(1960) that a defendant must have the rational and factual understanding of the adjudication against him.

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In criminal law, defendants should be competent to stand trial and to actively defend themselves. Defendants should have basic understanding of the adjudication that is going on and should be capable to assist the defense counsel in the trial.


A definition of competent or competency is that if a person is arrested and brought to court for a crime, he/she should have the ability to understand what is going on, what are the charges against him and how he can effectively assist the defense counsel in the trial for his/her defense. The meaning of incompetent or incompetency is the contrary to the previous definition and the stress should be on the inability of the defendant to understand the proceedings. (Graham 6)

The legal context in the competency issue started long ago in the 18thcentury. Sir William Blackstone said that if a man commits a grievous offence and before arraignment, he is , the arraignment should be postponed. If, after arraignment, he becomes mad, the trial should be postponed because he would not be able to defend himself. If after the trial, his mental state is again in question, the judgment should be postponed; and if after the judgment, his mental health is not good, execution should be stayed. (Zaph and Roesch 2)

Blackstones writings have become a basis for the legal procedures in England and the United States. Richard Lawrence, who was tried for attempting to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, was considered incompetent to stand trial. In 1899, a defendant Youtsey was declared incompetent to stand trial because he was epileptic, which made him unable to help his counsel in the adjudication of his case. (Zaph and Roesch 2)

English common law has been understood as saying that any trial, judgment, or execution should be stayed if he is found to have become absolutely mad (Hale, 1736 qtd. in Roesch et al. 1).

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