Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 8 (1996)

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

Opinion of the Court

Our recent decision in Medina v. California, 505 U. S. 437 (1992), establishes that a State may presume that the defendant is competent and require him to shoulder the burden of proving his incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence. Id., at 449. In reaching that conclusion we held that the relevant inquiry was whether the presumption " 'offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.' " Id., at 445 (quoting Patterson v. New York, 432 U. S. 197, 202 (1977)). We contrasted the "deep roots in our common-law heritage" underlying the prohibition against trying the incompetent with the absence of any settled tradition concerning the allocation of the burden of proof in a competency proceeding. 505 U. S., at 446. Our conclusion that the presumption of competence offends no recognized principle of "fundamental fairness" rested in part on the fact that the procedural rule affects the outcome "only in a narrow class of cases where the evidence is in equipoise; that is, where the evidence that a defendant is competent is just as strong as the evidence that he is incompetent." Id., at 449.6

The question we address today is quite different from the question posed in Medina. Petitioner's claim requires us to consider whether a State may proceed with a criminal trial after the defendant has demonstrated that he is more likely than not incompetent. Oklahoma does not contend that it may require the defendant to prove incompetence beyond a reasonable doubt.7 The State maintains, however, that the clear and convincing standard provides a reasonable accom-rationally assist in his defense." Okla. Stat., Tit. 22, 1175.1(1) (Supp. 1996).

6 In her concurring opinion, Justice O'Connor expressed the view that placing the burden on the defendant in this limited group of cases was permissible because it provided the defendant with an incentive to cooperate with the information-gathering process necessary to a reliable competency determination. Medina, 505 U. S., at 455.

7 Tr. of Oral Arg. 46-48.


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