You heard it here first: Loughner’s competent

Remember Jared Loughner, the gunman who shot then-Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and multiple others in Arizona in January, 2011?  Since his arrest, I’ve tried to keep you up to date periodically on his supposed “incompetency” to stand trial and on efforts (including forced psychotropic medication that Loughner’s attorney unsuccessfully attempted to have discontinued) to restore his competency at a federal prison mental health facility.

Well, now that Loughner’s had a year or so to see what his future looks like as an “incompetent” individual who murdered several people, including a federal judge, and severely wounded a member of Congress (yes, the meds might have helped, too), guess what?  He and his attorney apparently are conceding that, as I suspected and predicted, he’s competent.  In fact, they’re seeking to change Loughner’s plea to guilty Tuesday morning.

Before accepting the guilty plea, the judge will have to make findings that:

1) Loughner is competent to stand trial (i.e. that he can generally understand the proceedings and assist in his own representation), and

2) Loughner’s guilty plea is voluntary (i.e. free of duress or undue influence — this one applies to all defendants, even those whose competency has never been in question).

[As an aside, some in the legal and mental health professions believe that there should be an additional requirement for competency to plead guilty — that the defendant’s choice (of pleas) is based on an “intelligent” or “reasoned” consideration of its consequences — because multiple constitutional rights (e.g. to a trial, to confront one’s accusers, etc.) are waived when one pleads guilty to a crime instead of proceeding to trial.  I don’t personally find an additional requirement, i.e. a “higher standard,” necessary for competency to plead guilty (relative to competency to stand trial), and the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with me (which is fortunate, because the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Arizona, which is where Loughner’s crimes were committed, imposed the higher standard until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the issue).]

So, if both of the two findings enumerated above are made in the affirmative on Tuesday morning, we’ll have a conviction in the Arizona shooting rampage.  Under the terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors, Loughner reportedly will receive life in prison (no parole) for his crimes.  Fine — if he received the death penalty, he likely would spend the next couple of decades challenging his competency to be executed anyway (the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s cruel and unusual to execute someone who doesn’t understand what’s happening and why at the time of the execution).  Hopefully, Tuesday morning will be the last we’ll ever hear of him.

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