Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 4 (1996)

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

Opinion of the Court

Upon petitioner's release from the hospital some three months later, the trial judge heard testimony concerning petitioner's competence from two state-employed psychologists. These experts expressed conflicting opinions regarding petitioner's ability to participate in his defense. The judge resolved the dispute against petitioner, ordering him to proceed to trial.

At the close of a pretrial hearing held one week before the trial was scheduled to begin, the lead defense attorney raised the issue of petitioner's competence for a third time. Counsel advised the court that petitioner was behaving oddly and refusing to communicate with him. Defense counsel opined that it would be a serious matter "if he's not faking." App. 6. After listening to counsel's concerns, however, the judge declined to revisit his earlier determination that petitioner was competent to stand trial.

Petitioner's competence was addressed a fourth time on the first day of trial, when petitioner's bizarre behavior prompted the court to conduct a further competency hearing at which the judge observed petitioner and heard testimony from several lay witnesses, a third psychologist, and petitioner himself.1 The expert concluded that petitioner was

1 During the hearing petitioner, who had refused to change out of prison overalls for the trial because the proffered clothes were "burning" him, Tr. of Pretrial Motions and Competency Hearings 3-4 (May 4-5, 1992), talked to himself and to an imaginary "spirit" who petitioner claimed gave him counsel. On the witness stand petitioner expressed fear that the lead defense attorney wanted to kill him.

In his argument at the close of the proceeding, defense counsel reminded the court of an incident that occurred during petitioner's testimony:

"Every time I would get close to his space where he is seated in this little witness enclave . . . he would stand up and he would get away from me as far as he could and so I would back off and I'd give him a little space. . . . So, I've approached him from every side. . . . except I haven't approached him from the front. So yesterday, I approach him from the front. And that's the last thing I did. I regret doing that.

"He stood up and he got as far back against the rail behind the witness chair as he could get. I edged closer. He got as far back and he got up


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