Two Standards of Competency Are Better Than One: Why Some Defendants Who Are Not Competent to Stand Trial Should be Permitted to Plead Guilty

This Note argues that the present uniform standard of competency, competence to stand trial, be abolished in favor of two standards: competence to stand trial and competence to plea bargain. Part I traces the history of the competency standard by exploring its common law origins, the Supreme Court rulings that frame the debate, an academic reformulation of the competency inquiry, and the interests protected by requiring that defendants be competent to proceed through the criminal process. Part II contrasts the cognitive abilities, capacity to communicate with counsel, and courtroom behavior of defendants standing trial with those qualities required of defendants pleading guilty. Part III explores specific mental illnesses and how the symptomology of each illness determines a defendant’s competence to plead guilty or stand trial. Part IV examines the benefits and dangers of plea-bargaining to both defendants and society and proposes a separate test for competence to plea bargain that would allow some defendants to avoid civil commitment and its threat to liberty. Finally, this Note concludes by arguing that a multi-tiered system provides defendants with more due process protections.