Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 2 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 348 (1996)


(c) Oklahoma's rule does not exhibit "fundamental fairness" in operation. An erroneous determination of competence has dire consequences for a defendant who has already demonstrated that he is more likely than not incompetent, threatening the basic fairness of the trial itself. A defendant's inability to communicate effectively with counsel may leave him unable to exercise other rights deemed essential to a fair trial—e. g., choosing to plead guilty, waiving his privilege against compulsory self-incrimination by taking the witness stand, or waiving his rights to a jury trial or to cross-examine witnesses—and to make a myriad of smaller decisions concerning the course of his defense. These risks outweigh the State's interest in the efficient operation of its criminal justice system. Difficulty in ascertaining whether a defendant is incompetent or malingering may make it appropriate to place the burden of proof on him, but it does not justify the additional onus of an especially high standard of proof. Pp. 362-367. (d) Although it is normally within a State's power to establish the procedures through which its laws are given effect, the power to regulate procedural burdens is subject to proscription under the Due Process Clause when, as here, the procedures do not sufficiently protect a fundamental constitutional right. Patterson v. New York, 432 U. S. 197, distinguished. The decision herein is in complete accord with the ruling in Addington v. Texas, 441 U. S. 418, that due process requires a clear and convincing evidence standard of proof in involuntary civil commitment proceedings. That ruling protects an individual's fundamental liberty interest, while the ruling in this case safeguards the fundamental right not to stand trial while incompetent. Pp. 367-369. 889 P. 2d 293, reversed and remanded.

Stevens, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Robert A. Ravitz argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. W. A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Sandra D. Howard, Assistant Attorney General.*

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Association on Mental Retardation et al. by James W. Ellis and Barbara E. Bergman; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Charles D. Weisselberg, Dennis E. Curtis, Denise Meyer, and Larry J. Fleming.

A brief of amicus curiae urging affirmance was filed for the State of Utah et al. by Jan Graham, Attorney General of Utah, J. Kevin Murphy,


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