Kirsten Pryde


The competency evaluation system in the United States is in crisis. The criminal justice system has long recognized that a criminal defendant has a right to a fair trial, and being competent to stand trial is a necessary component of that right. Mental illness is increasingly prevalent in our inmate population, and while mental illness and incompetence are not synonymous, the two are often correlated. Unsurprisingly then, competency evaluation requests have skyrocketed in recent years. But importantly, competency is not static. Cycles of compensation and decompensation may require a defendant to go through the competency evaluation system multiple times before they are ever brought to trial. Defendants presenting with this cyclical competency are not uncommon, and Jonathan Mitchell is a prime example. Mitchell’s competency to stand trial has been evaluated at least three different times at three different facilities located all around the United States. When a defendant is deemed incompetent to stand trial, the government may involuntarily medicate that defendant for the purpose of rendering defendant competent to stand trial when the interests of the government outweigh the defendant’s. While involuntarily medicating a criminal defendant is – surprisingly – nothing new in the United States, this case marks the first time that a competent defendant has been so ordered.

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