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Pate v. Robinson

    Brief Fact Summary. Appellant was convicted of murder. Appellant argued that he was incompetent to stand trial and that he was denied due process when the trial court failed to conduct a pre-trial hearing on his competency.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. A hearing regarding competency is necessary under the due process clause of the Constitution of the United States.

    Facts. Appellant was convicted of murdering his common law wife and sentence to life in prison. Appellant conceded that he shot and killed the victim but argued that he was insane at the time of the killing as well as incompetent to stand trial. Appellant presented evidence of past mental issues from several witnesses. Appellant petitioned for habeas corpus arguing that he was denied due process for the failure of the trial court to allow a hearing on the Appellant’s competency to stand trial.

    Issue. Whether Appellant was entitled to a hearing on his competency to stand trial and the lack of such a hearing was a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution.

    Held. Reversed.
    Appellant is entitled to a hearing on his competency to stand trial and was denied a fair trial because he did not receive this hearing.

    It is contradictory to argue that a defendant may be incompetent and yet knowingly or intelligently waive his right to have a court determine his capacity to stand trial.

    Dissent. Justices Harlan and Black dissented arguing that the Appellant’s incompetence was sufficient to make out a violation of due process. The dissent agreed that Appellant had severe mental problems and conditions. However, the dissent noted that the by review of the record, Appellant was competent to stand trial and had participated in his own defense.

    Discussion. The Court ruled that although Appellant’s demeanor during trial might be relevant to the ultimate determination of whether he was insane, it cannot be relied upon to dispense on a hearing regarding competency to stand trial. The Court noted that Appellant’s evidence remained uncontradicted with respect to his past history of mental incompetence and that even the prosecution suggested at trial that they should have medical testimony on whether Appellant was sane or insane. The Court ruled that Appellant was entitled to a new trial where medical evidence could be presented regarding his competency to stand trial. A hearing on the record alone would be insufficient; the State must try Appellant anew.


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