Recently Jared Loughner appeared in court and pled guilty to numerous counts including Attempted Assassination, Murder, and Casing the Death of another. When I got wind of this a couple days before the date I was surprised that he would be doing so. I was surprised because I was not sure if he would be restored to competency.
If you asked anyone back in January of 2011 whether Jared Loughner was crazy they would immediately respond “yes.” After all, who walks through a parking lot gunning down innocent people? That is insane. I agree, but I found myself having to explain that just because he appears insane does not mean that he is legally incompetent to stand trial. Those are very different concepts.
To be able to stand trial a defendant must be legally competent in that he must be able to understand the charges against him and be able to assist his attorney in his defense. That is very different than whether what he did would be considered insane at the time he did it.
Originally Loughner was found incompetent and the State had a certain amount of time within which to “restore” his competency. As such, he was housed in a facility that attempted to teach him about the charges and the court process so he could assist in his defense and understand what was going on. We heard many reports about the forced medication and what had to be done to him in these attempts to restore his competency.
Finally, just last week, the Court found that Loughner was in fact competent. This finding was based on testimony of expert witnesses. As such, Loughner entered into a guilty plea wherein the death penalty was taken off the table. Had he not entered into a plea agreement he could have received the death penalty. Once he was found competent the Court still had to ask a series of questions to make sure that he understood the plea agreement and that he was voluntarily entering into it. In other words, the Court had to make sure he was “knowingly and voluntarily” pleading guilty.
What I found interesting was what I heard after the proceeding. From what I heard, the experts were afraid that he would not “remain competent” for long and that if a plea was going to be entered it needed to be done fast. I was surprised that this was actually said since I think it puts a cloud on the finding that he was competent. Was he really competent? Smarter minds than mine declared he was but I still find it disconcerting. I guess he only needs to be competent for a short amount of time, at least just long enough for the court proceeding.