Background: We are presently employed in a Court Clinic. A young man, Douglas Murrow, is awaiting trial for Breaking and Entering in the Nighttime and Assault & Battery (2 counts). The police report states that Mr. Murrow, age 39, has a long history of both police and psychiatric interventions, including two involuntary hospitalizations. He broke into the home of his parents last night, awakened them with his screaming and ranting, and he threw all of their prescription and over-the-counter medications at his father and mother and shoved each of them when they tried to reach the telephone in order to call the police. The police have intervened before with this man, who refuses all treatment.
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When he meets with his court-appointed attorney and us, the psychologists in the court clinic, he confides that his parents have been coming into his apartment at night, and torturing him in his sleep, resulting in many sleepless nights. He also complained that they are conspiring with his doctor to give him psychotropic medications, and putting medications into the milk and juice in his refrigerator. He broke into their apartment, he said, to give them a “taste of what they are handing out.” He avoided any questions about his feelings, confusion, paranoid ideas, and insisted there was nothing wrong with him. His attorney requested an evaluation for competency to stand trial, because Mr. Murrow refuses to consider an insanity defense. His attorney believes it’s a plausible and even compelling defense, because of the delusional nature of Mr. Murrow’s beliefs. Mr. Murrow, however, will not hear of it, and says he intends to file a motion to get a new attorney, one who will expose his parents’ many crimes against him to the court, so that “the truth will finally come out.”
When asked the standard questions about competency to stand trial, Mr. Murrow’s responses are coherent and correct, although there is sometimes a bit of a paranoid tinge to the occasional response. For example, when asked what role his lawyer would take in a trial, instead of saying, “defend me,” or something similar, his response indicated that he felt most of the court-appointed defense attorneys were puppets of “the system,” and did not have the intelligence necessary to “see through the bull” and recognize just how badly Douglas Murrow was being treated.
His attorney wonders if Mr. Murrow is competent to stand trial, since his refusal to consider a viable defense that has a good chance to prevail, as well as his insistence on an approach that will “unmask” the conspiracies against him makes it impossible to work with him.
In your jurisdiction, the standard for competency to stand trial is that the defendant must have sufficient present ability to understand the charges against him and possible penalties if found guilty, and sufficient present ability to consult with his attorney in order to assist in his own defense.
What is your opinion (not on competency – the ultimate issue – but on his abilities as described above)? Support your opinion based on information from the scenario as well as on case law precedents and other competency information from the text. I expect a lively discussion about the various ways one can look at this issue.