Competency to Waive the Right to Counsel

"In Dusky v. United States (1960) 362 U.S. 402, the Supreme Court held that the standard for competence to stand trial is whether a defendant has 'sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding' and has 'a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.' In Godinez v. Moran (1993) 509 U.S. 389, the Supreme Court articulated for the first time the standard for determining competence to plead guilty or to waive the right to assistance of counsel. The court specifically rejected 'the notion that competence to plead guilty or to waive the right to counsel must be measured by a standard that is higher than (or even different from) the Dusky standard.' (Id. at p. 398.)" (People v. Hightower (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 1108, 1112-1113.) "The competence that is required of a defendant seeking to waive his right to counsel is the competence to waive the right, not the competence to represent himself." (Godinez, supra, at p. 399.) "The Supreme Court concluded that 'requiring that a criminal defendant be competent has a modest aim: It seeks to ensure that he has the capacity to understand the proceedings and to assist counsel. While psychiatrists and scholars may find it useful to classify the various kinds and degrees of competence, and while States are free to adopt competency standards that are more elaborate than the Dusky formulation, the Due Process Clause does not impose these additional requirements.' (Godinez, supra, 509 U.S. at p. 402.) Put another way, Godinez teaches us that California is free to adopt 'more elaborate' standards than the Dusky standard for determining competence to waive the right to counsel but is not required to do so." (People v. Hightower, supra, at pp. 1112-1113.) The Hightower court summarized: "California courts appear not to have adopted a 'more elaborate' standard than the federal standard for determining competence to waive the right to counsel. Under Godinez, that standard is the same as the standard for competence to stand trial." (Id. at p. 1116 because the trial court properly found defendant competent to stand trial, it necessarily follows that the court erred in denying his motion for self-representation; the two rulings are simply antithetical.) In Indiana v. Edwards (2008), the court held that "the Constitution permits judges to take realistic account of the particular defendant's mental capacities by asking whether a defendant who seeks to conduct his own defense at trial is mentally competent to do so. That is to say, the Constitution permits States to insist upon representation by counsel for those competent enough to stand trial under Dusky but who still suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves." However, Edwards only dealt with whether a court may deny a "gray-area" defendant his right to self-representation, not whether it must do so. Godinez, on the other hand, "involved a State that sought to permit a gray-area defendant to represent himself. Godinez's constitutional holding is that a State may do so."