Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

HAMPSHIRE SUPERIOR COURT MURDER TRIAL IS DELAYED TO EVALUATE DEFENDANT’S COMPETENCY TO BE HIS OWN LAWYER

Sometimes, it is all in how you define the word.

Ryan Welch, 38, of East Hampton, is hereinafter referred to as the “Defendant”. He also stands accused of the Massachusetts murder of his girlfriend. His trial in Hampshire Superior Court was set to begin on Monday.

It didn’t.

You see, the Defendant is representing himself in the matter. An apparent believer in the old adage “If you want something done right…do it yourself”, he fired his court-appointed attorney last month. At the time, he requested to act as his own lawyer.

The Defendant explained to the court that he disagreed with the defense strategy. While the lawyer was pursuing a strategy of determining the level of his criminal responsibility, the Defendant maintains that he didn’t kill the late Jessica Ann Pripstein, hereinafter, the “Deceased”.

The judge granted the request and the trial was set to start this week.

However, things do not always go so smoothly or predictably in the criminal justice system. This is why prosecutors and defense attorneys often find themselves living life on sort of a roller coaster ride.

Yesterday, the murder trial was advanced and continued to a as-yet unidentified date. The court has ordered that the Defendant undergo an evaluation to determine whether he is competent enough to represent himself. By request of the Defendant’s stand-by counsel, the court also ordered that a defense expert be allowed to be present during the evaluation.

The evaluation, of course, is the reason for the delay. As the judge found, a court-appointed doctor would need “considerable additional time” to evaluate whether the Defendant is competent to act as his own lawyer.

If he disagrees with the results of the evaluation, I wonder if he might be allowed to conduct another evaluation himself acting as his own analyst.

By way of history, the Defendant has been held without bail since his arraignment in February, 2012. He was charged with killing the Deceased, 39, in her apartment. The Commonwealth says that the death was caused by a “sharp-force injury” to her neck, according to the autopsy report.

The Defendant was also found in the apartment at the time, bleeding from all apparently agree was a self-inflicted neck wound. He says that, when he found the Deceased’s body, he was so distraught that he tried to kill himself.

Attorney Sam’s Take On The Competency Necessary To Represent Oneself In A Massachusetts Murder Trial

I suppose the key issue is what is meant when you say “competent”.

In terms of what we usually discuss in this blog, there can be no question of whether or not the Defendant is competent. He isn’t.

I am always advising that, when faced with a criminal investigation or prosecution, the suspect should rush to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. This is because only such an animal has the specific training and real-life experience to give the best chance of successfully getting through the hot seat of criminal justice as unharmed as possible. By that type of definition, nobody is competent except for such an attorney.

That, however, is not how the law sees it. Further, under our law, a person has the right to defend him or herself. This is true even if doing so is one of the more foolish choices a person can make. We are, after all, allowed to make foolish choices.

When the issue arises as to whether or not a criminal defendant is competent, for example, to stand trial, the meaning of competence is different. There, the question is more pointed toward whether the person is mentally qualified to understand what is going on. The inquiry involved by the court has to do with questions like does the defendant know what the judge and the lawyers do in the courtroom. The test is worded in terms of whether the defendant can aid in his own defense. In reality, however, that is really a question which answer is a matter of perspective.

In this case, it would seem that the question is a cross between the usual test for the Defendant’s competence and some kind of test as to whether the Defendant is aware enough about what is going on to represent himself…at least as well as other pro se (acting as their own lawyers) defendants are.

The facts in this case seem to potentially give rise for additional concern about the Defendant. There may be a question as to whether the Defendant was sane enough at the time of the crime to actually be criminally responsible. That also seems to be the primary issue which has led the Defendant to represent himself in the first place.

It will be interesting to see what happens. After all, it is the Defendant’s case, not his former attorney’s case. While the attorney may believe the best chance at success is a type of insanity plea, the Defendant certainly has the right to declare that he did not commit the crime.

After all…maybe he didn’t!

To read the original story upon this blog is based, please go http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2013/10/mass_mans_trial_in_girlfriends_death_is_delayed

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