Dusky Standard Law & Legal Definition


Due process requires that a defendant be competent to stand trial. Trying a person who is not competent is said to offend the dignity of the court, to undermine the credibility of the State, and to deprive the citizen of essential rights. The competence examination of a defendant is guided by the conclusions in the case, Dusky v. United States, 271 F.2d 385, 395 (8th Cir. Mo. 1959), which set down the two cardinal elements of competency to stand trial. The so-called Dusky standard, used in almost all jurisdictions, defines a defendant as competent to stand trial if the defendant meets two criteria. First, the defendant must have a rational as well as factual understanding of the charges against him or her and the penalties associated with them. Second, the defendant must have the ability to cooperate with an attorney in his or her own defense. Although some courts had applied a more demanding standard of competency when the defendant attempted to plead guilty or waive counsel, requiring the ability to make a reasoned choice, in Godinez v. Maran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993), the Supreme Court rejected such a higher standard. Instead, the Court found that the Dusky formulation was the appropriate test of competency throughout the criminal process, at least as a constitutional minimum. The Dusky standard emphasized the cognitive ability to understand and the behavioral ability to consult with counsel, not necessarily the ability to engage in rational decision-making.