We’ve all followed the legal wrangling over Jared Lee Loughner’s mental condition, and the terms ‘insanity’ and ‘competency’ are being thrown about while the U.S. Attorney and the Federal Public Defender’s Office fight about the administration of forced medication. There are two different legal concepts in play here, both of them related to the defendant’s mental condition, but each of them focusing on the defendant’s psychology at different points in time . . .

1. Competency To Stand Trial (at the time of trial)

In order to be constitutionally put on trial, to put it bluntly, you have to have at least a few eggs in your basket. Our system of criminal justice requires that the defendant have a basic understanding what he’s accused of and how a criminal trial works, and that he has some basic ability to communicate with his defense lawyers and participate in his own defense.

I’m making a huge simplification, but as a rule of thumb anyone who can understand a Schoolhouse Rock civics lesson, sit through a half-hour of Cops on television, and speak with their lawyer without intrusive delusions or extreme behavioral disturbances is probably competent to stand trial.

If the defendant is a drooling catatonic, a floridly hallucinating psychotic, or suffers from severe brain injury or developmental disability, they won’t pass this simple ‘Competency’ test. Under our constitution they cannot be put on trial, because they can’t understand what’s happening to them and they have no actual ability to defend themselves. Trial competency is determined by psychological and neuropsychological testing at the time of trial, and the defendant’s mental state at the time of the crime is completely irrelevant.

Most potentially ‘insane’ defendants are still ‘competent’ to stand trial.

And many ‘incompetent’ defendants can be restored to ‘competency’ and put on trial. Some come to court in a state of active and severe psychosis due to mental illness or drug abuse, and they get a short vacation at a secure mental facility where they’re either dried out (if they were ‘tweaking’) or medicated with psychotropic drugs to normalize their mental state.

Other incompetent defendants, particularly those incapacitated by developmental disabilities, brain injury, or untreatable autism-spectrum disorders, will never be able to participate meaningfully in their own defense, and their criminal charges are dismissed. They don’t go free, however: they’re civilly committed to mental hospitals until they’re deemed to be no danger to themselves or others.

2. Insanity (at the time of the offense)

For the same reasons that we do not put toddlers in jail, we do not convict truly insane defendants of crimes. A true lunatic, with no grasp of reality or no concept of what they’re doing (while they’re doing something horrible) is no more in touch with reality or in control over their own actions than a squalling three year-old.

Insanity at the time of the crime is often more difficult to prove than incapacity to stand trial, because the forensic psychologist has to make a determination of what the defendant’s mental condition was several months ago, instead of where their head is at right now.

There are many different legal definitions of ‘insanity’ as a defense to criminal charges, and I won’t go into all of them here. The federal version of the defense is found at 18 U.S.C. section 17:

“It is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any Federal Statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.”

Loughner’s defense team will undoubtedly claim at trial (if they have to) that their client was unaware of the nature of what he was doing as he armed himself, shot a busload of victims, and attempted to reload and shoot some more.  They’ll also try to claim that he didn’t understand that it was wrong to shoot nineteen people he’d never met.

The U.S. Attorney has succeeded in having Loughner forcibly medicated with powerful anti-psychotic medications. The ostensible reason for this: Loughner is a danger to others in prison.  This is a load of BS.  They really want him medicated so he can be found competent to stand trial, and so he’ll look as normal as possible while his attorneys try to save his life by claiming that he’s completely crazy.

The defense team wants him to stay crazy, for his own good. If he stays crazy and  ‘incompetent’ he cannot be tried or sent to prison, and even though he’ll probably never go free, he’ll never face the death penalty for the murder of a federal judge and five others.

And if they do have to go to trial, it will be very hard for them to convince a jury that, even though Loughner might seem calm, quiet and reasonably normal at trial, he was legally insane when he went on a shooting rampage at a suburban strip-mall. On May 25th, the judge ruled that Loughner was incompetent (too crazy) to stand trial, and his lawyers  want him to stay that way.

At this point, that’s probably not gonna happen.

12 Responses to A Lawyer Explains: Is Jared Lee Loughner Crazy, Incompetent, Or Both?

  1. Why can’t Loughner just be evil? Why can’t he just be executed by one of the victims’ family members? There is really little doubt he did what he did. No matter what, he is the one responsible for his actions. Evil exists. Justice demands such people be eradicated. Timothy McVeigh was a mind control soldier. The feds bombed their own building in a “false-flag” attack. Anyone who has done the research will know it’s true. Those who haven’t will laugh or dismiss it. But Mcveigh still got what he deserved for his involvement in that black op. If Mcveigh got the needle, then it’s hyporcritical not to give it to people like Loughner simply for hiding behind “insanity.”

    • “The feds bombed their own building in a ‘false-flag’ attack.”

      Oh yeah, and 9-11 was an inside job so that Halliburten could make billions…. and the CIA developed crack to keep black people in the ghettos, and the Feds are covering up all the UFOs that have crashed in the U.S., and the Government let the Japs bomb Pearl Harbor so that the nation would get pissed off and demand military action …. Blah Blah Blah … (Rolls eyes).

    • Dude your insanity is showing. What you advocate is vigilantism not justice. Like or not the legal system still mostly works in this country. The out come my not be what you want but advocating violence is not the answer. And yes I do believe there is evil in this world but if you become evil to fight evil are you any different then he?

      I try to live my life by the following rules
      1) Take responsibility for my self and my action
      2) Take responsibility for my safety. This is why I own a gun and know how to safely use it. I have taken up Krav Maga to learn self defense at a personnel level. It is also why I have 72 hour bags it the car and house in case there a natural or man made disaster.
      3) By following 1 and 2 I am able to look out for my family then neighborhood.
      4) Vote and be active in my community. If you do not vote or be active you are part of the problem.
      5) If at all possible buy local. This means local stores not national chain. I recently found class 07 FFL gun manufacture in the local area that I am going to use to keep them in business and support the local community. That not to say that I will have them make it from scratch. But I will order my Ruger .357 through them and have work done by them. Mom and Pop store if possible, it my cost more but you support the local community and keep the money local and out of the pockets of wall street.

  2. He’s pure evil and should be taken out at any cost. It doesn’t matter if he’s nuts cuz he can never be fixed.

  3. I can’t help but think of the Russian Red Ripper, I can’t possibly remember how to spell his name. He was practically drooling and baying at the moon inside the cage he was in during trial. He had murdered and practiced cannibalism with abandon before he was caught and ultimately executed. He killed more and devoured the sexual organs of countless women and girls. The court basically allowed his insanity and still would not take the chance he could ever be free. If anything, the death penalty is not used enough in this country. We’ve tried relaxing the ultimate punishment so very much over the decades. It is time to stop keeping murderers on the retirement program. It’s not good economically nor worth the risk of escape. We’ve seen what happens when violent offenders escape-such as the Texas Seven. It is time to say enough.

    • The problem with the death penalty is that our semi-competent government has a nasty habit of putting innocents on trial while the guilty walk free.

  4. stateisevil says: “Why can’t Loughner just be evil? Why can’t he just be executed by one of the victims’ family members? There is really little doubt he did what he did.”

    Because here in America we have due process.

  5. stateisevil says: “Timothy McVeigh was a mind control soldier. The feds bombed their own building in a “false-flag” attack. Anyone who has done the research will know it’s true.”

    Timothy McVeigh was a right-wing militia movement guy. The woods around Michigan are full of these knuckleheads. He lived here for a few years with his friend and accomplice, Terry Nichols. If you like McVeigh’s politics you should move here, where you will find lots of friends just like him. Just go to any gun show or swap meet. The Hutaree are the latest dickweed militia to make the news around here.

    • For the record the new MI, Militia leader turned in the Hutaree nutballs when they went to him for help hiding from the law.

  6. Something interesting I came across a few months ago while googling around; postings by Loughner on a conspiracy forum. He started several topics there that can best be described as stark, raving bonkers. I think, when conspiracy forum regulars tell someone they really need to get help, it’s a sign something’s broken in the head.

    http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread649091/pg1

  7. As an author of several books on autism and Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning autism), I feel an obligation to clarify your points about autistic people being incompetent to stand trial. You refer to “untreatable autism-spectrum disorders”. That is somewhat of a misnomer. All people on the autism spectrum can be helped with therapy to one extent or the other.

    Low functioning autism is often associated with mental retardation, and in that instance, an individual with such low mental capacity may truly be seen by the justice department as incompetent to stand trial. However, it is unlikely that they would be committed to a mental institution. The real injustices are when those with higher function autism such as Asperger’s syndrome get caught up in the law. This often happens because while they are intelligent, they have extremely poor social skills and poor judgement and may be tricked into carrying drugs for someone, as an example, without understanding the full implications of their actions. It is unfortunate that society has such a poor understanding of autism and those who live with it. But a great site to learn more is http://www.AmericanAutismSociety.org and http://www.AspergersSociety.org.

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