Schizophrenia in the Court Room

Should Schizophrenia Patients be allowed to Waive Counsel & Represent Themself in Court?

Identification of the Problem

The right to self-representation is supposed to be guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, but, in cases where the mental competency of the defendant is in question, the legitimacy of the certiorari petition is also called into question.  When defendant Ahmad Edwards was charged with attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon, criminal recklessness, and theft in 1999, the trial court declared him incompetent to stand trial after two impartial psychiatrists found him to be schizophrenic (Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).  However, when the defendant was found to be of sound enough mind to stand trial, he was continually denied his constitutional right to self-representation on the grounds that he was not mentally capable of providing himself the best defense.  The denial of the right to self-representation is an issue amongst schizophrenic or mentally challenged individuals since it is also the duty of the court to ensure that the accused is afforded a fair trial that includes the sufficient legal representation.  This discourse will present the argument that anyone found to be of sound enough mind to stand trial, under the statutes that follow this determination, should also be allowed to argue their own case should they so choose.

History of Edwards vs. State of Indiana

Following the determination of schizophrenia, Edwards was subjected to two years of evaluation and treatment, found competent to stand trial in 2001, but the trial court ordered a second examination by two different unbiased psychiatrists in November 2003 and Edwards was once again found incompetent to stand trial (Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).  Edwards was not found competent to stand trial until July 2004 after an evaluation by a psychiatrist at the Logansport State Hospital, at which point Edwards moved to proceed pro se, but his request was denied by the trial, stating that his intention to raise an insanity defense as the reason (Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).  When the first trial resulted in a mistrial due to the jury being hung on the attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon charges, although they convicted on the charges of criminal recklessness and theft, Edwards moved to proceed pro se at the retrial in 2005, and the trial court again denied both filings of this motion (Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).

It was the ruling of the trial court that Edwards was competent to stand trial, but was still not capable of conducting his own defense and the defendant was convicted of attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon at the retrial¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana). He was sentenced to presumptive terms for the attempted murder and battery in addition to the two convictions from the first trial, with all four sentences to be served concurrently, resulting in a sentence of thirty years¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).¬† Edwards appealed on the grounds that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation at his second trial, which was upheld in the Court of Appeals when the conviction was reversed and the case was remanded for retrial of the attempted murder and battery counts¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana). ¬†The Court of Appeals ruled that, since the trial court had determined that Edwards was competent to stand trial for attempted murder and battery with deadly weapon, he was also competent enough to waive his constitutional right to counsel, according to the U.S.C.A. Const. Amend 6; West’s A.I.C. Const. Art. 1, ¬ß 13¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).¬† Furthermore, since the defendant‚Äôs waiving of his right to counsel was ‚Äúknowing, voluntary, and intelligent‚ÄĚ, the establishment that the defendant was cautioned regarding dangers of self-representation is sufficient¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).

For this reason, the federal constitutional right to self-representation requires that a defendant who is competent to be tried for a crime be permitted to proceed pro se if that is the defendant’s choice.¬† In his defense, Edwards cited Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806, 95 S.Ct. 2525, 45 L.Ed.2d 562 (1975) to establish the grounds for violation of his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation, since, in this case, the Supreme Court of the United States stated the question as whether a state court may ‚Äúhale a person into its criminal courts and there force a lawyer upon him, even when he insists that he wants to conduct his own defense‚ÄĚ 422 U.S. at 807, 95 S.Ct. 2525¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana). The Court concluded that it could not and cited the structure of the Sixth Amendment, which provides:

‚ÄúOn grant of certiorari, the Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Stewart, held that a defendant in a state criminal trial has a constitutional right to proceed without counsel when he voluntarily and intelligently elects to do so, and that the state may not force a lawyer upon him when he insists that he wants to conduct his own defense‚ÄĚ (Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).

The case determinations of Faretta also held that the accused has the implicit right to proceed pro se because the role of the counsel is to assist, not conduct, the defense¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).¬† It was also established that the defendant has a federal constitutional right to be the ‚Äúmaster‚ÄĚ of the defense and must ‚Äúknowingly and intelligently‚ÄĚ forego their right to counsel even if they do not possess the skill or experience of a lawyer and cannot properly defend their case¬†(Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana).

Significance of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is one of many different psychotic syndromes or psychoses.  Psychoses are severe mental disorders that distort individual thinking to such a degree that the afflicted individual is completely disoriented in regards to person, time, and place such that they are not able to recognize or experience pleasure, as sometimes happens in schizophrenia. (Gilmore, 2010; Wilson, 2012).  As the overall causes of schizophrenia are generally unknown, a person is diagnosed as schizophrenic only after all other possible organic causes of psychosis are ruled out and their psychotic symptoms cannot be explained by drug intoxication or some other medical condition, such as a nutritional deficiency, cerebrovascular disease, Huntington’s disease, or hepatic encephalopathy (Wilson, 2012). Schizophrenia affects about 2.5 million people in the United States alone and is suspected to have genetic roots, since the most significant risk factor is having a first-degree relative with schizophrenia (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2012; Gilmore, 2010).  Symptoms of schizophrenia can include hallucinations, which are basically sensory experiences without any external stimuli, delusions or unsubstantiated beliefs, odd motor movements, and bizarre behavior (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2012).

Nearly all drugs used today to treat schizophrenia are dopamine antagonists, meaning they decrease dopamine levels to some extent, and are known as neuroleptics (Wilson, 2012).  The most common treatments for schizophrenia include drugs like neuroleptics and many patients relapse when released from confined care due to environmental circumstances, like familial interactions involving heightened or expressed emotions (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2012; Pandina, et al., 2010; Gopal, et al., 2010; Haas, et al., 2009; Kane, Cohen, Zhao, Alphs, & Panagides, 2010).  Schizophrenia is not a single disorder since it is usually present in conjunction with other disorders, making it a syndrome or series of disorders with different etiologies or origins, thus each case has a different pathology as well as outcomes.  One or more monoamines, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, or dopamine, have been associated with the development of schizophrenic disorders (Wilson, 2012).  Additional well-documented risk factors include some of the best documented risk factors include winter or spring season of birth, pregnancy and/or birth complications, advanced parental age, urban residence at birth or during upbringing, maternal prenatal viral infections, immigrant status, and cannabis use in adolescence (Broussard, Goulding, Talley, & Compton, 2010).

However, many individuals that have schizophrenia do not have an affected relative and it is relatively assumed that the illness is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors during gestation and/or after birth.  Neurological pathways in the brain believed to be involved in schizophrenia: Schizophrenic patients display abnormal brain activity in multiple areas of the brain and dopamine levels in schizophrenic individuals are not significantly higher than those in normal controls (Wilson, 2012).  An imbalance in dopamine activity in the brain, in which some areas of the brain are more active than normal and others are less active might explain how schizophrenia arises in the brain.  The severity of the symptoms determines the level of impairment the afflicted suffer, and medication can enable the defendant to participate or lead their own defense.

Legal Classification of Schizophrenia

Under the law, the mental capacity of an individual to stand trial is based on the defendant’s capability to sufficiently consult with their lawyer with a reasonable amount of rational understanding (§ 4.130 Schedule of ratings-mental disorders).  It was also considered to be a consideration of whether they possess a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against them, aside from their level of orientation to time and place or their capacity to recall the events (§ 4.130 Schedule of ratings-mental disorders).  The law states that mental illness is diagnosed when an individual demonstrates:

‚ÄúTotal occupational and social impairment, due to such symptoms as: gross impairment in thought processes or communication; persistent delusions or hallucinations; grossly inappropriate behavior; persistent danger of hurting self or others; intermittent inability to perform activities of daily living (including maintenance of minimal personal hygiene); disorientation to time or place; memory loss for names of close relatives, own occupation, or own name‚Ä̬†(¬ß 4.130 Schedule of ratings-mental disorders)

Other Relevant Case Histories

In the case of U.S. Const. amend. VI. Faretta, it was established that, in state proceedings, these rights are guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and, although the Sixth Amendment does not specifically mention a defendant‚Äôs right to proceed pro se, the Faretta case established the implicit nature of this proviso in the law due to the defendant‚Äôs burden of proof¬†(Anthony Pasquall Faretta v. State of California). ¬†However, the law states the provision of adequate council and the right to a fair trial in which the defendant is allowed the opportunity to present their case and the Faretta case indicated that criminal defendants would be better defended by counsel¬†(Anthony Pasquall Faretta v. State of California). ¬†Nonetheless, it was determined that to force unwanted counsel on a defendant ‚Äúviolates the logic‚ÄĚ of the Sixth Amendment and the court held that the knowledgeable dismissal of one‚Äôs rights is allowable, despite the lack of skill on the defendant‚Äôs part, citing additional case history under Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464‚Äď65, 58 S.Ct. 1019, 82 L.Ed. 1461 (Anthony Pasquall Faretta v. State of California). Since the defendant was apparently ‚Äúliterate, competent, and understanding, and the he was voluntarily exercising his informed free will‚ÄĚ, his decision to forgo council was legal and binding and the trial judge informed Faretta that he would be required to follow the rules a lawyer would be required to follow¬†(Anthony Pasquall Faretta v. State of California).¬† This precedent would apply to the Edwards case since the defendant had been ruled competent to stand trial at the time that he attempted to refuse council.

Other determinations of previous case law include Dusky v. U.S., 362 U.S. 402 (1960) 80 S.Ct. 788, 4 L.Ed.2d 824, which states that, in criminal prosecutions, the accused has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; to confront the witness against him; to have the ability to obtain witnesses on their behalf, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.  In this case, the defendant was convicted of unlawfully transporting a girl who had been kidnapped across interstate lines and the United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, 271 F.2d 385, affirmed that the defendant petitioned for certiorari (Milton R. Dusky v. United States of America).  However, in this case, since the Supreme Court, Per Curiam, determined that the record insufficiently supported the finding of the defendant’s competency to stand trial, the Judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed and the case was remanded to the District Court with directions for further sentencing (Milton R. Dusky v. United States of America).  Since the defendant’s ability to stand trial was substantiated in the Edwards trial, the courts’ refusal to allow him to lead his defense infringed on his constitutional right.

Judicial Independence

Judicial independence is a normative idea designed to function internally as well as an institutional concept meant to facilitate impartiality within the legal environment (Ferejohn).  The normative perspective allows arbitrators to be autonomous in their moral assessments, which invokes reliability in their judgments, as they remain independent of any ideological aspects relevant to the circumstances (Ferejohn).  The ability to remain impartial is a requirement of judicial election, although this aspect of judicial accord has historically been an issue for conflict since this can be used by officials as a mechanism for imposing their own perspective and making it a matter of judicial policy (Ferejohn).  The common conception of judiciary officials being independent refers to their ability to take action and make judicial rulings with impunity, but judges are, in fact, institutionally dependent on Congress and the president for jurisdictional rulings and carrying out of judicial orders (Ferejohn).  In essence, the dependence of judicial accord on the outer machinations of the greater body of governance implements a system of checks and balances into the legislative form intended to disallow abuse of power; however, the positive functioning of JI is powered by the public belief in the efficacy of the system and its ability to mete out justice accordingly.

The strength of JI is based on the public opinions of the citizens served by the official legislative body.  In this respect, JI refers to the state’s ability to protect the rights and property of the people from others, including the government (Feld and Voigt).  In this respect, the relevancies of de iure and de facto JI must be examined to evaluate their impact on the economic structure and overall stability of the country (Feld and Voigt).  Essentially, de iure represents the letter of the law while de facto deals with how the judge has affected the law during his/her tenure and the actual collective experiences of the country (Feld and Voigt).  Where de iure has been determined to have no impact on a country’s actual financial functionality, as determined through measure of the GDP growth, de facto JI positively influences the financial aspects of a country’s growth (Feld and Voigt).  Summarily, the independence exhibited by a judge in the performance of their duties and the effects that these actions have on the legislative functioning of the country has the capacity to influence the fiduciary growth of the country, which can potentially cause national conflicts.


Summarily, the right to self-representation should be absolute if the individual has been declared fit to stand trial.  The schizophrenic syndrome is heterogeneous, having mixed, varied, or different manifestations in the presentation of symptoms, course of disease, response to treatment, and outcomes for each individual afflicted (Getzfeld & Schwartz, 2012).  There are also significant cultural differences across various ethnic groups that affect how and what is perceive as mental illnesses and how individuals within these communities treat such conditions, primarily due to a lack of specific, culturally competent, evidence-based programs capable of reversing detrimental incongruences regarding access and quality of available care as well as the knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes regarding mental illnesses (Broussard et al., 2010).  Often, many minority groups choose faith healing, are too embarrassed, or cannot afford consistent care that will engender effective treatment and the nature of the disease disallows belief that something is wrong, so patients frequently refuse to continue treatment once symptoms are managed and subside. Future research is required to further examine the biopsychological influences for schizophrenia.

Works Cited

4.130 Schedule of ratings-mental disorders. No. § 4.130 . 38 C.F.R. 23 April 2009.

Ahmad Edwards v. State of Indiana. No. 49S02‚Äď0705‚ÄďCR‚Äď202. 866 N.E.2d 252 Supreme Court of Indiana. 17 May 2007. Judgment Vacated by Indiana v. Edwards, U.S.Ind., June 19, 2008.

Anthony Pasquall Faretta v. State of California. No. 73-5772. 95 S.Ct. 2525 422 U.S. 806, 45 L. Ed. 2d 562, Supreme Court of the United States. 30 June 1975.

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Milton R. Dusky v. United States of America. No. 504, Misc. 80 S.Ct. 788 4 L.Ed.2d 824 Supreme Court of the United States. 18 April 1960.

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