Volume 36:3 (Spring 2013)
Criminal Procedure—What Is the Proper Remedy When a Criminal Defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel is Violated During a Mental Competency Hearing?—United States v. Ross, 703 F.3d 856 (6th Cir. 2012).
Introduction: In United States v. Ross, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit addressed the following question: What is the appropriate remedy for deficiency of counsel during a criminal defendant’s competency hearing? The Sixth Circuit began by examining whether a competency hearing is a “critical stage” of a criminal proceeding. The critical stage distinction is significant because deprivation of counsel during a critical stage of a criminal trial constitutes a Sixth Amendment violation. The Sixth Circuit found competency hearings to be a critical stage and subsequently found that a lack of adequate representation at a competency hearing results in a violation of a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Sixth Circuit then addressed the issue of what the proper remedy is for deprivation of counsel during a competency hearing. The court reasoned that, because absence of counsel during a criminal defendant’s competency hearing violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel, such an absence demanded automatic reversal of a conviction without examination “for prejudice or harmless error.” However, there is a split among the circuits regarding whether deprivation of counsel at a competency hearing mandates automatic reversal.