D. Mass Discusses Split Re Whether the Government Bears the Burden of Establishing a Defendant's Competency to Stand Trial

Per U.S. v. Patel, 524 F.Supp.2d 107 (D. Mass. Nov. 27, 2007):

Surprisingly, a question arises regarding whether the Government bears the burden of establishing competency, or the defendant bears the burden of establishing incompetency. 18 U.S.C. § 4241 is silent on this point, noting only that the court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant is incompetent to stand trial. The legislative history is also silent. Lastly, the First Circuit does not appear to have considered the burden of proof issue.

. . .

[O]ther circuits' discussion of the matter may be instructive. But other circuits have either declined to address the issue or are split.

The Second Circuit, after acknowledging that “[t]he federal statute providing for competency hearings does not allocate the burden of proof, and neither the Supreme Court nor this court has decided as a matter of statutory construction whether the government or defendant bears the burden,” declined to decide the issue. Several district courts have also declined.

The Fourth and Eleventh Circuits have adopted the Supreme Court's statement in Cooper that the accused has the burden of proof. The Fourth Circuit stated that “Under federal law, the defendant has the burden ... [to show] that the defendant is ... mentally incompetent,” citing 18 U.S.C. 4241 and Cooper. The Eleventh Circuit also noted, “[A] petitioner raising a substantive claim of incompetency is entitled to no presumption of incompetency and must demonstrate his or her incompetency by a preponderance of the evidence.” Several district courts have also adopted this view.

The Third, Fifth and Ninth Circuits, however, take the view that the Government has the burden of proof to demonstrate competency. The Fifth Circuit has stated, “ There is no question that in federal prosecutions, the government bears the burden of proving the defendant's competence to stand trial by a preponderance of the evidence.” Several district courts have also adopted this position.

. . .

This court adopts the view of the Third, Fifth and Ninth Circuits. It is the position of this court that it is the Government's burden to establish competency to stand trial, not the defendant's burden to establish incompetency. Just as the Government must establish other prerequisites to trial, the Government must establish a defendant's competency.


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