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Incompetency to Stand Trial

Developments in the Law
  • Bruce J. Winick
Part of the Perspectives in Law & Psychology book series (PILP, volume 6)

Abstract

The incompetency doctrine has common law origins, going back at least to mid-seventeenth century England (Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry 1974, pp. 912–915). Blackstone wrote that a defendant who became “mad” after the commission of an offense should not be arraigned “because he is not able to plead... with the advice and caution that he ought” and should not be tried, for “how can he make his defense?” (Blackstone 1783, p. 94; see also Hale 1736, pp. 34–35). Some have traced the common law prohibition on trying the incompetent defendant to the ban against trials in absentia (Foote 1960, p. 834; see, e.g., Frith’s Case 1790; Kinloch’s Case 1746). Others have traced the origins of the doctrine to the difficulties resulting when a defendant frustrated the ritual of the English common law trial by remaining mute instead of pleading to the charge. Without such a plea, the trial could not go forward. In such cases the English court was obliged to determine whether the defendant was “mute by visitation of God” or “mute of malice.” If “mute of malice,” the defendant was subjected to a form of medieval torture—the peine forte et dure—in which increasingly heavier weights were placed upon his chest in an effort to compel him to plead. The category “mute by visitation of God,” the members of whom were spared this painful ritual, originally encompassed the “deaf and dumb,” but gradually was expanded to include “lunatics.” At the discretion of the Chancellor, a jury could be impaneled to conduct an inquest into the defendant’s competency (Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry 1974, pp. 887–88, 912–13; Slovenko 1977, p. 168).

Keywords

Criminal Proceeding Criminal Procedure Criminal Charge Civil Commitment Competency Evaluation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bruce J. Winick
    • 1
  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of MiamiCoral GablesUSA

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