Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 9 (1996)

Page:   Index   Previous  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  Next



Opinion of the Court

modation of the opposing interests of the State and the defendant. We are persuaded, by both traditional and modern practice and the importance of the constitutional interest at stake, that the State's argument must be rejected.


"Historical practice is probative of whether a procedural rule can be characterized as fundamental," Medina, 505 U. S., at 446. In this case, unlike in Medina, there is no indication that the rule Oklahoma seeks to defend has any roots in prior practice. Indeed, it appears that a rule significantly more favorable to the defendant has had a long and consistent application.

We turn first to an examination of the relevant common-law traditions of England and this country. The prohibition against trying the incompetent defendant was well established by the time Hale and Blackstone wrote their famous commentaries. 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *24 ("[I]f a man in his sound memory commits a capital offence . . . [a]nd if, after he has pleaded, the prisoner becomes mad, he shall not be tried: for how can he make his defence?"); 1 M. Hale, Pleas of the Crown *34-*35 (same). The English cases which predate our Constitution provide no guidance, however, concerning the applicable standard of proof in competency determinations. See Trial of Charles Bateman (1685), reported in 11 How. St. Tr. 464, 467 (1816), and Hawles, Remarks on the Trial of Mr. Charles Bateman, 11 How. St. Tr. 474, 476 (1816) (noting that the court in the 1685 trial incurred "censure" for proceeding to trial with a doubt as to the defendant's competence); Kinloch's Case (1746), 18 How. St. Tr. 395, 411 (1813); King v. Steel, 1 Leach 452, 168 Eng. Rep. 328 (1787).

Beginning in the late 18th century, cases appear which provide an inkling of the proper standard. In King v. Frith, 22 How. St. Tr. 307 (1790), for example, the court instructed

Page:   Index   Previous  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  16  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007