Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 3 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

Justice Stevens delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Oklahoma the defendant in a criminal prosecution is presumed to be competent to stand trial unless he proves his incompetence by clear and convincing evidence. Okla. Stat., Tit. 22, 1175.4(B) (1991). Under that standard a defendant may be put to trial even though it is more likely than not that he is incompetent. The question we address in this case is whether the application of that standard to petitioner violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.


In 1989 petitioner was charged with the brutal killing of an 86-year-old man in the course of a burglary. After an Oklahoma jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and recommended punishment by death, the trial court imposed the death penalty. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence.

Petitioner's competence was the focus of significant attention both before and during his trial. On five separate occasions a judge considered whether petitioner had the ability to understand the charges against him and to assist defense counsel. On the first occasion, a pretrial judge relied on the opinion of a clinical psychologist employed by the State to find petitioner incompetent. Based on that determination, he committed petitioner to a state mental health facility for treatment.

Assistant Attorney General, and Carol Clawson, Solicitor General, John M. Bailey, Chief State's Attorney of Connecticut, and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: Gale A. Norton of Colorado, M. Jane Brady of Delaware, Margery S. Bronster of Hawaii, Alan G. Lance of Idaho, Carla J. Stovall of Kansas, Michael C. Moore of Mississippi, Don Stenberg of Nebraska, Frankie Sue Del Papa of Nevada, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Betty D. Montgomery of Ohio, Thomas W. Corbett, Jr., of Pennsylvania, Jeffrey B. Pine of Rhode Island, and James S. Gilmore III of Virginia.

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