Sort of Competent

Perhaps only in a country so strongly committed to individual rights could criminal defendants enjoy both the constitutional right to be represented by an attorney and the constitutional right to represent themselves.

The California Supreme Court case of People v. Johnson (2012) reveals how confusing it can get to juggle these rights. Though mentally ill, Johnson was determined to be competent to stand trial. This meant that he was deemed capable of understanding trial proceedings and working with his attorney, if he had one. But he didn’t have one because the judge had granted his request to represent himself. After a few months had gone by during which Johnson had filed silly motions and behaved in a bizarre manner while in court, the judge revoked Johnson’s right to represent himself and appointed an attorney to represent him.

It can be difficult to be a judge these days. You have to know when a defendant has enough mental capacity to be competent to stand trial, but not enough to represent himself.