Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348, 15 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

prove the defendant's competence to stand trial once a question about competency has been credibly raised.18 The situation is no different in federal court. Congress has directed that the accused in a federal prosecution must prove incompetence by a preponderance of the evidence. 18 U. S. C. 4241.

The near-uniform application of a standard that is more protective of the defendant's rights than Oklahoma's clear and convincing evidence rule supports our conclusion that the heightened standard offends a principle of justice that is deeply "rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people." Medina v. California, 505 U. S., at 445 (internal quotation marks omitted). We turn next to a consideration of whether the rule exhibits " 'fundamental fairness' in operation." Id., at 448 (quoting Dowling v. United States, 493 U. S. 342, 352 (1990)).


Contemporary and historical procedures are fully consistent with our evaluation of the risks inherent in Oklahoma's practice of requiring the defendant to prove incompetence by clear and convincing evidence. In Addington v. Texas, 441 U. S. 418, 423 (1979), we explained that:

"The function of a standard of proof, as that concept is embodied in the Due Process Clause and in the realm of factfinding, is to 'instruct the factfinder concerning the degree of confidence our society thinks he should have in the correctness of factual conclusions for a particular type of adjudication.' In re Winship, 397 U. S. 358, 370 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring)."

The "more stringent the burden of proof a party must bear, the more that party bears the risk of an erroneous decision."

18 See, e. g., Haw. Rev. Stat. 704-404 and 704-411 (1993); Ill. Comp. Stat., ch. 725, 5/104-11(c) (1992); S. D. Codified Laws 23A-10A-6.1 (1988); Wis. Stat. 971.14(4)(b) (Supp. 1994 and Supp. II 1995).

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